28 July 2014
Catholic Near East Welfare Association has launched a campaign to rush emergency assistance to tens of thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Ordered by ISIS extremists of the self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate to convert, pay a special tax or die, Mosul’s Christians have instead fled to the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain — some just a few miles from Mosul — or to the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
“These Christian families have arrived with only their clothes, having fled the city on foot, forced to leave everything behind in Mosul,” said CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, Ra’ed Bahou. “At ISIS checkpoints, militants then stole whatever dollars they had in their pockets, even their passports and identification papers.”
Christian families have found refuge in churches, convents and monasteries, he added. With Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena — who themselves are homeless — the clergy, religious and villagers are trying to provide the basics. But the refuge, especially in the villages of Alqosh, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Bartella and Tel Kaif is tenuous at best, as ISIS has cut the electricity and water supply, and has announced its intentions to overrun the region. “These villages are in the hands of God,” Mr. Bahou said, “as ISIS says their next ‘gift’ will be the villages of the Nineveh Plain.”
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, announced CNEWA will rush support to the bishops, clergy and religious, “who in the frenzy are courageously providing water, food, mattresses and medicines to their flock,” wherever their flight takes them.
“We are witnessing, at the hands of extremist thugs, the eradication of a cradle of Christianity in the cradle of civilization,” Msgr. Kozar said. CNEWA’s emergency support will provide the “shepherds of this flock to tend their sheep, with the basics they need for survival now,” he continued. “We will help them even if their flock is dispersed, providing for their well-being, body and soul.”
Fewer than 150,000 Christians remain in Iraq from a high of more than a million before 1991.
An agency of the Holy See, Catholic Near East Welfare Association works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to religious caring for orphaned and abandoned children; caring for displaced or refugee families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; offering formation and catechetical programs for children and young adults; supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders; and assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the elderly and disabled.
CNEWA has been active in Iraq for more than 50 years, but redoubled its efforts among the vulnerable Christian population in 1991.
A religious charity registered in the State of New York, all contributions are tax deductible. Donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org, by phone at 800.442.6392, or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195.
28 July 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
Pope Francis issues new appeals for peace (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday made another urgent appeal for an end to the conflicts in the Middle East, in Iraq and in Ukraine. Speaking after his regular Angelus address to thousands of people gathered in a hot and sunny St. Peter’s Square, the pope spoke of the victims of war, in particular the children who die or are injured and orphaned by the violence…
Chaldean patriarch: ‘The situation is dire’ in Iraq (Vatican Radio) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I says the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate quickly. He said the country has suffered tremendously at the hands of the ISIS militant group, also known as Islamic State — extremist Muslim rebels, who one month ago declared a caliphate on the border with Syria and Iraq. With ISIS pledging to expand its control over the region, there is very little relief from the attacks in sight…
Palestinian sources: Israeli airstrike hits Gaza hospital (CBS News) The Gaza police operations room and a Palestinian health official say separate Israeli airstrikes hit the compound of Gaza City’s main hospital and a nearby park, causing casualties. The Israeli military had no immediate comment. Camera crews were prevented from filming the area of impact at Shifa Hospital. Health official Ayman Sahabani says several people were wounded in the strikes…
United Nations calls for cease fire in Gaza (Associated Press) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reinforced the Security Council’s call for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” in the Gaza war on Monday and demanded that Israel andHamas end the violence &ldquoin the name of humanity.” The U.N. chief accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal of being irresponsible and “morally wrong” for letting their people get killed in the conflict. He urged them to demonstrate “political will” and “compassionate leadership” to end the suffering of war-weary citizens. “Gaza is in critical condition” after pummeling by Israeli forces that has killed helpless civilians and raised “serious questions about proportionality,” he told reporters…
India’s largest Ramadan gathering held in Kerala (Arab News) Hundreds of thousands of believers gathered at the Swalath Nagar in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district in the southern Indian state of Kerala overnight Thursday in what is claimed as the the world’s third largest Ramadan congregation. Organizers say some half a million people attended the annual prayer meet in the past two years and they expect similar or increased numbers this year…
25 July 2014
Tags: Israel Holy Land Kerala Chaldeans
Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal is pictured in an orange garden outside his palace offices in the Jordanian capital, Amman. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
In a region and world of increasing polarization and intolerance, Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal has for decades been a beacon of tolerance and understanding in the Middle East. As founder and chair of the Royal Institute for Inter-faith Studies and co-founder and chair of the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue, Prince Hassan has been the voice of conscience where conscience is being drowned out by religious extremism. He is also, not insignficantly, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims are often criticized for not speaking up against the atrocities that are being committed in the name of Islam. Such criticism, while understandable, seems totally unaware of the incredible work the prince has done for decades. Yesterday he issued a statement, co-signed by several other religious and secular leaders in the region, condemning violence in the name of religion:
In recent days, we have read with horror about Christians being asked to leave the city of Mosul within 24 hours. We have also heard about the desecration of Christian holy spaces and their symbols — the bombing of churches and a cross being removed from St. Ephrem’s Cathedral, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Mosul.
These actions are an appalling blot on the proud tradition of pluralism in a region that has been home to Chaldeans, Assyrians and other churches of the East for more than 1,700 years. Indeed, the destruction caused by the violence has engulfed all of the diverse populations that make up Iraq — the Turkmens, the Yazidis, the Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and tens of thousands of Arab families who have been uprooted from the region in fear of their lives. These horrors continue to unfold on a daily basis and follow a brutal period of fighting in Syria. Today, the United Nations estimates that one out of every three Syrians is in need of urgent humanitarian aid. We cannot stand idly by and watch as the lives of the most vulnerable, our women and our children, are destroyed in the name of religion.
We have also viewed with concern the ongoing situation in Gaza and Israel, and leaving aside the horror of that situation for a moment, have been particularly distressed by how the name of religion has been invoked to justify the murder of ordinary people. Statements posted by young people on social media justifying the taking of innocent lives as “commandments from God” are a testament to how the pressure of living under the threat of violence can cause the minds and moral compass of not just the military and seekers of power, but also that of ordinary civilians, to atrophy. We should do all that we can to end the violence even as the numbers of casualties rise on a daily basis. Now, more than ever, we should all remember the quote of Malachi 2, verse 10: “Have we not all one father?”
In these troubling times, when we bear witness to a moral crisis of unparalleled dimensions, we should recall the Islamic concepts of “haq el hurriya” and “haq el karama,” the rights to freedom and to human dignity that are to be enjoyed by people of all faiths. To quote the words from the Quran: “We have honored the children of Adam and carried them on to land and sea” (Quran 17:70).
Read the entire statement here.
25 July 2014
Tags: Jordan War Religious Differences
Pope Francis eats with Vatican workers during a surprise visit to the Vatican cafeteria on 25 July. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Workers at the Vatican got a surprise visitor today at lunch:
Taking the chef completely by surprise, Pope Francis unexpectedly showed up to eat with the Vatican’s blue collar workers at their cafeteria in the tiny city-state’s “industrial park.”
“He showed up, got his tray, silverware, he stood in line and we served him,” the cafeteria’s chef, Franco Paini, told Vatican Radio on 25 July.
He acted “normally, like the humblest of the workers,” Paini said, his voice still trembling from the thrill. “Please forgive me, I’m still excited, you know?”
Wearing his white cassock and zucchetto, the pope grabbed an orange plastic tray and chose what he wanted from the array of prepared foods.
He got a plate of pasta without sauce; a portion of cod; a whole wheat roll; some “au gratin” vegetables; a few French fries; an apple; and a bottle of spring water -- but not the fizzy, bubbly kind, witnessed reported.
“I didn’t have the courage to give him the bill,” said Claudia Di Giacomo, who was sitting behind the cash register.
Paini said the pope made everyone feel at ease. “We introduced ourselves, he asked how we were, what it was like working there, he paid us compliments; it was really nice.”
The cafeteria in the Vatican’s “industrial area” serves employees who work as technicians, electricians, plumbers, metalworkers, craftsmen, but also employees of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
The pope sat down to eat at a table with workers from the Vatican pharmacy’s warehouse. Wearing dark blue uniform polo shirts, the men spoke to the pope about their jobs and the pope talked about his Italian heritage.
Table talk also included soccer and the economy, the Vatican newspaper reported.
CNS has more.
25 July 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Rome Cuisine
An Israeli soldier prays in front of a tank at a military staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip on 24 July. Fighting pushed the Palestinian death toll over 700. (photo: CNS/Nir Elias, Reuters)
Israel-Palestine conflict: The voice of reason silenced by the blast of weapons (VIS) Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See permanent observer at the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, spoke at the 21st Special Session of the Human Rights Council dedicated to the question of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem, which took place on 23 July. “As the number of people killed, wounded, uprooted from their homes, continues to increase in the conflict between Israel and some Palestinian groups, particularly in the Gaza Strip, the voice of reason seems submerged by the blast of arms. … The perpetration of injustices and the violation of human rights, especially the right to life and to live in peace and security, sow fresh seeds of hatred and resentment. … Demonizing others, however, does not eliminate their rights. Instead, the way to the future lies in recognizing our common humanity…”
‘Appalled’ by attack on U.N.-run school in Gaza, Ban urges halt to fighting (U.N. News Center) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he is “appalled” by the news of an attack on a United Nations-run school in Gaza where hundreds of people had taken refuge from the ongoing hostilities, adding that the incident underscores the need to stop all fighting immediately. Media reports say at least 15 people died in the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun, which was run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). More than 100,000 Gazans — 5 percent of the total population — have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities since the conflict began over two weeks ago…
World’s top Muslim leaders condemn attacks on Iraqi Christians (Vatican Radio) Two of the leading voices in the Muslim world denounced the persecution of Christians in Iraq, at the hands of extremists proclaiming a caliphate under the name Islamic State. The most explicit condemnation came from Iyad Ameen Madani, the secretary general for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group representing 57 countries, and 1.4 billion Muslims. Meanwhile, Mehmet Gormez, Turkey’s top cleric and the spiritual successor to the caliphate under the Ottoman Empire, also touched on the topic during a peace conference of Islamic scholars…
Pope Francis calls Patriarch in solidarity with Iraqi Christians (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reassured the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church, Ignatius Joseph III, that he is following news out of Iraq with concern — particularly the dramatic situation of Christians in Mosul who have been threatened with death and seizure of their homes by Islamic militants…
Italy tries to cope with crush of migrants seeking refuge in Europe (Los Angeles Times) An estimated 71,000 people have made the dangerous 350-mile voyage to Italy this year from the Libyan coast. The number already exceeds the total for all of the previous record year, 2011, at the height of the “Arab Spring” uprisings. Chaos in Libya, traditionally a staging point for would-be émigrés trying to reach the European Union, has turned the operation into something of a free-for-all…
India: Salesians open child assistance center in Bangalore (Vatican Radio) A new child assistance center was inaugurated in Bangalore Railway Station under the direction of Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO) on 9 July by Mr. Anil Kumar Agarwal, Divisional Railway Manager, Southern Western Railways. The Child Rescue Booth, which will start functioning from Platform Four of Bangalore City railway station, aims to rescue the scores of children who arrive there daily, and to protect child rights in general. It is estimated that 50-60 runaway children arrive daily in the city of Bangalore, mostly at the railway station and Bus station…
24 July 2014
Tags: India Iraqi Christians Christian-Muslim relations United Nations Migrants
Looking for the latest news and insight on the Middle East? CNEWA’s Communications Director Michael J.L. La Civita will be on Relevant Radio later today to discuss the worsening crisis for Christians in the region.
You can hear him on “A Closer Look” with Sheila Liaugminas at 6:30 EST.
To find a station near you, visit this page. Or click this link to listen to the program online.
24 July 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Holy Land Christians
Displaced Christians wait for humanitarian aid 20 July at a church in the Iraqi town of Hamdaniya, east of Mosul. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
The announcement that the caliphate was restored was issued by the extremist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) on 29 June. I have been told by friends in the Middle East that the response of some young people was “What is the caliphate?” If that is the case with Muslims, how much more is it the case with non-Muslims throughout the world. What is the caliphate? What is the significance of it being restored? Is this something that should worry us?
I tried to answer a few of these questions in an essay published this week in America magazine:
For most people in the West the caliphate is an unknown. It sounds exotic — like something out of A Thousand and One Nights, a topic more suitable for National Geographic than The New York Times. However, ISIS and the newly proclaimed caliphate have taken over large sections of northeastern Syria as well as large sections of Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city. With efficiency and startling brutality ISIS has terrorized the Iraqi population, thrown the army into chaos and is marching on Baghdad where it threats to slaughter Shiites en masse.
Clearly the caliphate is back on the world stage. Contemporary information about the caliphate, mediated through the Western media, is a mixture of what ISIS thinks the caliphate was/is/should be, coupled at times with a historical reflection. As is the case in many ideologically motivated recreations of a historical past, the caliphate of ISIS relies on an idealized past, which, if it ever existed, did not exist for a very long time. While it is fair to say that the caliphate started with the death of the Prophet Muhammad in June 632 and continued until it was abolished by Atatürk in 1924, its form, authority and success differed greatly from place to place and time to time.
Read the full article, “Contesting the Caliphate,” in the current edition of America.
24 July 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Islam Sunni Shiite
Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks outside the northern Gaza Strip on 22 July. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
This week in Our Sunday Visitor, CNEWA’s Communications Director Michael J.L. La Civita offers some thoughts on the explosive crisis of the Middle East:
The artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East — with its national borders drawn arbitrarily by the Western Allied powers after World War I — is collapsing. In an article for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a French seminarian working with the patriarchate writes that a number of factors have contributed to the latest conflicts.
“Recently we witnessed the end and the failure of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, in particular because of the refusal of Palestine to recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, which led to a new wave of pessimism and despair,” Pierre Loup de Raucourt wrote. “The discovery of the three dead Israeli teenagers and the revenge that followed, leading to the horrific death of a young Palestinian, were sufficient to ignite a wick. And one does not know how big the powder keg is to which this wick is attached.”
That powder keg is huge.
In Iraq and Syria — by far the largest states created from the smoldering remains of the Ottoman Turkish Empire — the powder kegs have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq, once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves, has collapsed — its people exhausted by more than 30 years of constant war. Syria, once the bedrock of regional stability, has disintegrated — its people maimed and displaced. Meanwhile, extremist militias have overrun vast swaths of devastated territory and proclaimed an Islamist caliphate, an empire akin to those that dominated the region for centuries.
In Israel and Palestine, (as of this writing) leaders on both sides remain unyielding.
Read more in the current edition of Our Sunday Visitor.
24 July 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Middle East Israeli-Palestinian conflict Middle East Peace Process
Pope Francis blesses Meriam Ibrahim of Sudan during a private meeting at the Vatican on 24 July. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In a dramatic encounter at the Vatican, an Ethiopian-born woman who faced a death sentence for refusing to renounce her Christian faith had a meeting this morning with Pope Francis:
Meeting a Sudanese woman who risked execution for not renouncing her Catholic faith, Pope Francis thanked Meriam Ibrahim for her steadfast witness to Christ.
The pope spent 30 minutes with Ibrahim, her husband and two small children on 24 July, just hours after she had arrived safely in Italy following a brutal ordeal of imprisonment and a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told journalists that the encounter in the pope’s residence was marked by “affection” and “great serenity and joy.”
They had “a beautiful conversation,” during which the pope thanked Ibrahim for “her steadfast witness of faith,” the priest said.
Ibrahim thanked the pope for the church’s prayers and support during her plight, Father Lombardi said.
The Vatican spokesman said the meeting was a sign of the pope’s “closeness, solidarity and presence with all those who suffer for their faith,” adding that Ibrahim’s ordeal has come to represent the serious challenges many people face in living out their faith.
The informal conversation also touched upon the family’s plans now that Ibrahim is free, he said. The pope gave the family a few small gifts, including papal rosaries.
Ibrahim, a 26-year-old Catholic woman originally sentenced to death for marrying a Christian, had been released from prison in Sudan 23 June after intense international pressure. But she was apprehended again the next day at the Khartoum airport with her husband, who is a U.S. citizen, and their nearly 2-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter, who was born in prison just after Ibrahim’s death sentence.
Charged with possessing fake travel documents, Ibrahim was not allowed to leave Sudan, but she was released into the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, where she then spent the following month.
Italy’s foreign ministry led negotiations with Khartoum for her to be allowed to leave Sudan for Italy.
Read more at the CNS link.
24 July 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Violence against Christians Sudan
Palestinians in Gaza City yesterday walk past a mosque that witnesses say was hit by Israeli shelling. (photo: CNS/Mohammad Salem, Reuters)
Hiding in the shadow of the pastor in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexios has not had much sleep in the past few days. He has been busy ensuring that scores of Palestinian families who sought refuge in his church, the Church of St. Porphyrius, are getting all the help they need. The churches of Gaza are among the very few places left where Palestinians can seek refuge — so far. But on Monday night the nearby cemetery, located in the Orthodox church’s yard, was hit in an Israeli strike. “If we ask why did they hit [the church], they [Israelis] will come up with an excuse. But what I know is that Israel announced that churches and mosques are protected areas, they are safe places,” said Archbishop Alexios. During its 17-day assault, Israel’s army has hit at least five mosques…
Jerusalem patriarch: Don’t punish all Palestinians because of Hamas (CNS) It is impossible for Israeli military to target Hamas missiles without hitting civilians in the Gaza Strip, said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem. People might not agree with Hamas, which controls Gaza, but “we cannot punish all the population because you do not agree with Hamas,” he told Catholic News Service in Washington on 23 July…
Israeli fire hits U.N. facility, killing 15 (AP) Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside. Gaza health official Ashraf al Kidra says the dead and injured in the school compound were among hundreds of people seeking shelter from heavy fighting in the area. It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the Israeli operation began on 8 July…
Maronite patriarch calls for dialogue with ISIS (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter has called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria to a dialogue. “Humanity is the only thing we share with you. Come let’s talk and reach an understanding on this basis,” he addressed ISIS during a speech Wednesday at a dinner of the Episcopal Media Committee. “You rely on the language of arms, terrorism, violence and influence, but we rely on the language of dialogue, understanding and respect for others…”
Iraq’s ‘Islamic State’ is quite happy to rule by terror (Christian Science Monitor) For the Islamic State, the jihadi group based in Iraq and Syria that has seized major cities and towns in northern and central Iraq in recent months, slaughter and the fear of slaughter are the coin of the realm. And so far, it’s working…
Massive explosion in the courtyard of the Armenian Church in Zaporozhye (Public Radio of Armenia) A massive explosion ripped through Zaporozhye, near a major hospital, last night, Ukrinform reports. According to preliminary reports, the explosive device was left in the courtyard of the local Armenian church. No casualties were reported as a result of the accident…
From Aleppo to Armenia: Syrian auto-repair tycoon starts over (Christian Science Monitor) In Aleppo, Sako, 60, owned an auto-repair business that employed 15 workers. He made a substantial amount of money, he says — enough to buy four apartments in Aleppo and two cars, and eat out regularly at the city’s pricier spots. Then the war hit his business, forcing him to flee with his wife to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, where years earlier he had sent one of his sons to study to be a pharmacist. Now he rents and operates a small, tidy falafel and shwarma stand in the center of town, while his wife, a former anesthesiologist, manages another outpost next door…
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict Armenia