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Volume 44, Number 2
4 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Members of the Rifo family gather in their temporary dwelling in Sulimaniyeh, Iraqi Kurdistan.
(photo: Don Duncan)

The Autumn edition of ONE features as its cover story a dramatic glimpse into the lives of Iraqis who have fled from ISIS and settled in Kurdistan. It includes profiles of four different families, including the Rifos:

The Rifos are one of a dozen or so Chaldean families that have found shelter at the center in Sulimaniyeh. During the day, they sit in the common area, watching news on TV or discussing events back home, notably the ongoing war between ISIS and the Kurdish defense forces, known as the Peshmerga. For meals and at night, each family retires to its own room and lays out foam mattresses. There, they bed down for the night. In the Rifos’ area, there are six people, including the grandmother, sharing one room.

“The moment we crossed the checkpoint into Iraqi Kurdistan, I didn’t know if I should cry or if I should laugh,” recalls Ibtihaj Rifo of their nocturnal exodus. “The first thing I said to my family is: ‘We have become displaced people. Now we will be receiving food and aid from people. We will have to queue for the shower and the bathroom.’ ”

While this is true, the queues are shorter in Sulimaniyeh than in Erbil, the Kurdish city closest to the occupied Christian areas. For this reason, Erbil is currently the most overburdened and chaotic emergency response zone. Many families arriving to Erbil, like the Rifos, found no space to stay comfortably there and so they moved deeper into Iraqi Kurdistan, to Sulimaniyeh.

It’s been over two months since the Rifo family fled home and, like many others, they are still coming to terms with the trauma.

Continue reading their story at this link. Be sure to explore other profiles and features in the Autumn edition, as well.

And to help support families like the Rifos, please visit our giving page.

4 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

This 20 November photo shows smoke rising from a neighborhood in Kobane, Syria, damaged by fighting between Islamic State militants and Kurdish forces. (photo: CNS/Osman Orsal, Reuters)

UNESCO chief calls for ‘protected cultural zones’ in war-torn Iraq, Syria (U.N. News Center) Denouncing the persecution of minorities, attacks on cultural heritage and illicit trafficking in cultural properties in Iraq and Syria as “part of a strategy of deliberate cultural cleansing of exceptional violence,” the head of the United Nations cultural agency today urged the creation of “protected cultural zones” around heritage sites in the two crisis-riven countries…

Israel’s unexploded ordnance endangers Jordan Valley residents (Al Monitor) On 23 November Ahmed al Sheikh from the village of Bardala in the occupied Jordan Valley, near the Jordan River, was killed by an exploding mine left behind by the Israeli army following military maneuvers in the region. Sheikh was the head a family of five, his youngest son being only 5 years old. The Israeli army holds periodic military exercises in the Jordan Valley involving the use of warplanes and live ammunition. With the death of Sheikh, the number of those killed by Israel’s unexploded ordnance in the Jordan Valley has reached three since the beginning of 2014…

Chechen gun battle leaves at least 19 dead (Christian Science Monitor) Security forces in the capital of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya stormed two buildings, including a school, in fierce gun battles with militants early Thursday that left at least 19 dead, authorities said. The fighting, which punctured the patina of stability ensured by years of heavy-handed rule by the Kremlin-appointed leader, erupted just hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin was to give his annual state of the nation address in Moscow…

Ukraine’s new government faces tough challenges (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s re-elected Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has warned of an even more difficult year ahead after parliament voted in his government. The prime minister made clear to legislators that his new cabinet faces major challenges in a nation still facing fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists that killed more than 4,300 people…

Gaza war leaves students with ruined classrooms (Al Monitor) Israel shelled dozens of schools during the recent Gaza war, destroying and damaging classrooms and leaving many students to study in impossible conditions…

Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Palestine United Nations

3 December 2014
Greg Kandra

People become emotional as more than 100,000 devotees fill the Chavara shrine on a hilltop at Mannanam, India, on 23 November, as Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara was canonized at the Vatican, along with Saint Euphrasia Eluvathingal, who also was from Kerala.
(photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)

India is celebrating the canonization of two new saints:

More than 100,000 pilgrims thronged the Chavara shrine in southern Kerala state as Kuriakose Elias Chavara was canonized by Pope Francis on 23 November at the Vatican along with Euphrasia Eluvathingal, a member of the religious order founded by St. Chavara.

Thousands of people patiently waited in line for hours ahead of the live telecast of the canonization, which began at mid-afternoon local time, to pray at the tomb of St. Chavara, founder of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, a Syro-Malabar Catholic order.

“I wanted to celebrate this great day here,” Joseph Parayil, who had traveled more than 60 miles to be at the shrine to watch the ceremony, told Catholic News Service.

As Pope Francis pronounced the canonization of the two saints, even elderly women applauded as they watched the telecast on one of the dozen giant screens placed around the premises of the hilltop shrine.

St. Chavara lived at the shrine for 33 years until 1866.

Soon after the Vatican ceremony more than 100 priests concelebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for the pilgrims.

“Today the spirituality of India has reached the heavens. Father Chavara founded the first Indian religious congregation,” said Bishop Thomas Koorilos Chakkalapadickal of the Syro-Malankara Diocese of Tiruvalla during his homily.

Born in 1805, Chavara was ordained a priest in 1829. Two years later, he co-founded the Carmelite of Mary Immaculate, the first indigenous congregation. It now more than 3,000 professed members.

In 1866, Father Chavara also founded the Congregation of Mount Carmel, a women’s congregation with 6,500 members.

Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s chief minister and an Orthodox Christian, and Hindu ministers in his cabinet stood around St. Chavara’s tomb in front of the altar before the final blessing.

“With Father Chavara and Sister Euphrasia becoming saints, the entire Kerala society is being blessed today,” he told the pilgrims after the two-hour Mass.

Besides “setting off a spiritual renewal” among the Christians, Chandy reiterated that St. Chavara paved way for many social changes in Kerala.

By insisting that churches open “pallikoodam” (a school attached to church) to educate the low castes who were not allowed to enter schools at the time, the chief minister pointed out that “Father Chavara laid the foundation for the educational revolution of our state.”

Kerala is the most literate and educationally advanced state in India because of the work of the Catholic Church, which runs nearly half of the 15,000 private primary schools in the state. Catholics comprise less than 12 percent of Kerala’s population of 35 million.

Those attending the ceremonies were pleased by the canonizations.

“I am blessed and happy,” said Beeyar Prasad, a Hindu TV programmer. He delivered the concluding speech, describing St. Chavara’s legacy at Mannanam, during a rally concluding the celebrations that began with a rosary procession on the eve of the canonization.

“I am a lover of poetry and it is the beautiful poems and writings of Father Chavara that has made me his fan,” Prasad said.

“His writing on family life is relevant for every family whether Christian or Hindu,” he added.

3 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian refugee children gather in front of their family’s tent home in Lebanon, in late 2013. (photo: John E. Kozar)

The ‘suffocating’ life of Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s tents (Al Akhbar) In the tents of Syrian refugees, stories abound and tragedies surround them daily. After three years, the tattered canvas of the tents attests to their grief. However, in each tent, there remains room for the laughter of children who have matured too soon. These tents were not set up as a scouting activity. We are not in a camp among friends. But the people here know each other and have become friends in tragedy. With the passage of time, a tent becomes a home and shelter, their only place in this limited world. When rain exhausts the roof of the tents and wind uproots them, the refugees agonize as much as they did over the destruction of their houses in Raqqa or Aleppo. “We may have grown accustomed to our tent. Some of us like it, and others still cannot stand it. Do you know how the world can become a tent?”…

Ukraine human rights ‘deteriorating rapidly’ (Al Jazeera) Ukraine has seen the most rapid deterioration of human rights globally in 2014 according to a new report released by a rights watchdog. Continuing conflict, internal displacement, and worsening economic conditions in the country mean it has dropped 19 places in the past year — and is now 44th most “at risk” in the world according to the Maplecroft Human Rights Risk Atlas 2015, released on Wednesday…

St. Sebastian Church in Delhi set on fire (Vatican Radio) The mysterious fire on Monday morning reduced to ashes St. Sebastian’s Church in Dilshad Garden on the eastern extreme of India’s national capital. The news about the fire brought hundreds of people to the church. The crowd stood on the road before the church building and prayed for peace and communal harmony. Later they marched to the local police station and staged a sit-in to protest police’s alleged slackness in dealing with the case…

Some see unity vision reignited by pope, patriarch’s gestures in Turkey (CNS) After watching firsthand as Pope Francis bowed his head for a blessing from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the pope’s 28-30 November trip to Turkey, an American-born Orthodox priest felt a joyful disbelief. “I couldn’t sleep that night,” said Orthodox Father Emmanuel Lemelson, an American priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who was part of the official Orthodox delegation during the papal visit to Turkey…

Pope seeks meeting with Russian Orthodox leader (KFVS12) Pope Francis said Sunday he is ready to go anywhere, anytime to meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church — even while acknowledging that he doubts the day will ever come that Catholic and Orthodox theologians will agree to end the 1,000-year schism…

Tags: Syria India Lebanon Refugees Ecumenism

2 December 2014
CNEWA staff

Our friend, Sister Wardeh Kayrouz, center, gives hope and dignity to refugees. In this 2011 photo, she stands with two of her fellow Franciscan Missionaries of Mary sisters,
from Italy and Kerala. (photo: John E. Kozar)

On 2 December, we begin the holiday giving season with Giving Tuesday.

Giving Tuesday is a national giving day in the United States and Canada. It takes place on the Tuesday after the rush of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The Giving Tuesday movement began in 2012, when charities, individuals and companies united to promote a culture of “giving back.” To learn more about Giving Tuesday, visit, or in Canada.

On this Giving Tuesday, we invite you to give hope and dignity to those less fortunate. Give online today to support the work of CNEWA.

We also want to take this opportunity to thank all of CNEWA’s supporters. Thank you for your generosity and prayers for our mission. We’re sure Pope Francis raises up grateful prayers to God for you.

Thank you on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters in the world, and also our partners — the priests, religious sisters and volunteers that bring aid those in need. Your gift truly makes an impact in their lives.

We’d like to share with you this “Thank You” message from Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA’s president:

Through the local church on the ground, you bring relief to refugees, dignity to the disadvantaged, care to poor children and so much more. Thank you again and a blessed Advent to you.

To learn how you can help, please visit this giving page.

P.S. Share with your family and friends, and through social media, about Giving Tuesday. Visit the CNEWA Facebook and CNEWA Canada Facebook pages to share with us how you will give during the Advent and Christmas season!

2 December 2014
Michael J.L. La Civita

CNEWA provides displaced Syrian children with food, clothing and school supplies.
(photo: Mitchell Prothero/Polaris)

Yesterday, we learned the United Nations World Food Program has suspended its voucher program, which feeds more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, because of funding shortfalls.

“For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter,” cites a World Food Program statement, “the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating.”

Syrian refugees living in camps and informal settlements depend on the assistance, as the host countries are overwhelmed by the enormity of need and lack the necessary resources. With winter settling in, the living conditions of the refugees are extremely precarious. Refugees lack proper housing, clothing and health care.

Yesterday, funding partners in Europe — including Kindermissionswerk — awarded CNEWA grants in the amount of $222,972 to assist CNEWA provide Syrian infants and school-age children with milk, diapers, winter clothing and school supplies.

Additional grants from Kindermissionswerk and Misereor, totaling $125,000, were also received for the needs of Iraqi children and medical supplies for CNEWA’s clinic in the Martha Schmouny camp in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

On this Giving Tuesday, give to CNEWA. Your gift will make a difference for innocent families devastated by war, power and greed.

2 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian refugees conduct a silent protest on 22 November in Athens, Greece, calling on the government to provide assistance. Greece has seen a sharp rise in the number of asylum seekers from Syria over the past year. (photo: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

‘Dire situation’: W.F.P. cuts food vouchers for Syrian refugees (CNS) Today, citing a lack of funding, the World Food Program announced it was suspending food vouchers for more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees, a move its president called “disastrous for many already suffering families.” The agency says it needs $64 million just to support the refugees through the month of December. The move prompted an outcry and appeals from groups working with the refugees, who noted that winter weather will make the situation worse. Catholic Near East Welfare Association is working with local churches to help offset the need for food…

An Orthodox view of pope and patriarch’s Turkish encounter (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey, which concluded on Sunday, came exactly 35 years after the setting up of a joint international commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The principal purpose of the three-day visit was to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world…

Millions of children in India endure chronic malnutrition, work (Fides) In India, about 72 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition. In addition to the risk of death, malnutrition causes delays in physical and mental growth. There are also 13 million young workers, 75 percent of whom perform very dangerous jobs, such as 18 hour days working in mines…

Palestinians prepare push for U.N. resolution on statehood (Al Monitor) The Arab League has agreed to submit a draft resolution calling for recognition of the state of Palestine as Palestinians gear up for a diplomatic showdown at the U.N. Security Council…

Ukraine crisis: New ceasefire agreed for Luhansk region (BBC) Ukrainian and pro-Russian rebels have agreed to a new ceasefire in part of eastern Ukraine, set to begin on Friday, international observers say. The deal only affects forces facing each other in the Luhansk region. Separate ceasefire talks are under way in Ukraine’s neighbouring Donetsk region. Heavy fighting has raged at the Donetsk airport in the past three days…

Tags: Syria India Refugees Palestine Ecumenism

2 December 2014
Hazem Balousha

A journalist based in Palestine, Hazem Balousha wrote about the trauma of children after the recent war in Gaza for the Autumn 2014 edition of ONE. Here, he offers some further impressions.

One of the toughest moments for a Palestinian father from Gaza in the 50-day of Israeli war was to see children become victims of bloodshed — and then follow the reaction of their parents as they experienced fear and thus lost ability to live as normal a life as much as possible.

Covering the recent war in Gaza was especially difficult for me because I am a father of two young children.

I spent my time patrolling between the cities of the Gaza Strip, moving from street to street and among destroyed buildings, meeting those harmed by the the bombardment and people who were displaced from their homes.

I met groups of children and their families, each individually, and every moment as I met one of them I was horrified at their tales, thinking about my children and my moral and physical ability to protect them from the war and alleviate their fear and anxiety.

I tried to deal intelligently with the children during the interviews with each of them; I treated each one as I do my own children.

I met with 12-year-old Nesma al Haddad, as well as with 14-year-old Tamer al Nakhla individually before I later met with 10-year-old Wissam Abu Shaqfa. Each tried to hide the feelings of fear, despite their psychologist’s advice that it is better to show feelings of fear than to hide them.

A smile never left the face of the energetic Nesma all the time I spent talking and listening to her; meanwhile Tamer was a shy loner, despite being the eldest among his brothers.

Wissam — who used to be a funny and active boy both at home and among his friends, according to his parents — turned out to be silent, spending most of his time sitting at home alone. His parents said that he was traumatized after witnessing not only the loss of his uncle but also his close friend Yousef during the recent 50 day war.

Some wounds will take a long time to heal.

1 December 2014
CNEWA staff

A sister walks among families in the basement of an unfinished building in Erbil now used as a shelter for displaced Christians. (photo: Don Duncan)

We recently received the following urgent appeal from Sister Maria Hanna, prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq:

After four months of exile there are no signs of hope that the situation here in Iraq will be resolved peacefully. Unable to think or make decisions, everything is vague and we feel as if we have been living a nightmare. Christianity in Iraq is bleeding; so many families have left, and many are leaving to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, preparing themselves for second immigration and an uncertain future. We do not know how long these families will be able to tolerate the burden and survive financially.

The conditions remain the same for those of us in Iraq. Many still are forced to stay in unfinished buildings on construction sites. In one place, a mall has been remodeled to accommodate families, with the hall divided merely with partitions. Although they are better than tents, they resemble dark, damp cages with no ventilation. Most difficult of all is the lack of privacy.

There have been some attempts to provide containers and rent houses and flats, but this is not enough, as the number of displaced people increases each day. Many come from cold, mountainous places. Psychologically, people are tired, worried, confused and irritated — who would blame them? They are jobless, their children do not attend school and young people are still waiting to start their academic year. Some tried to register at Kurdish universities, but they were not accepted. All this is causing tremendous strain on the families, and the result is abuse and relationships that are unhealthy. The problems are totally overwhelming, and it seems as if our efforts are amounting to nothing.

People have been stripped of their dignity and unjustly deprived of all their money and possessions. What money people do have cannot be withdrawn from banks as the central government has frozen their accounts. Moreover, some people desperately look for work, ready to labor for minimum wage.

Despite this, things would be much worse if it were not for the aid we have received from you and the many benefactors who have contributed what they can.

Thank you. Indeed, we are so grateful to you, and we have tried to help as many people as we can with these donations. Our focus has not been on the refugee centers and camps only, as refugees at these centers are supported by the organization and the church. Rather we are trying to help those families who rent houses, but cannot support themselves. So we help them by providing bedding and clothing.

As for our community, we are extremely exhausted with concern for the family and friends we have who are unjustly forced to leave us. Everyday we hope that tomorrow will be better, but our tomorrows seem to bring only more tears and hardship. “Out of the depths we cry to thee, O Lord! When will you rescue us?”

We desperately count on your prayers, and we need you carry us to Jesus like the men who brought the paralytic to Jesus.

God bless you,

Sr. Maria Hanna, O.P.

Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena — Iraq

This comes at an especially difficult time in the region, amid reports today that the United Nations is cutting food aid to refugees:

From Reuters:

A lack of funds has forced the U.N. World Food Program to stop providing food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, the agency said on Monday.

“Without WFP vouchers, many families will go hungry. For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating,” said WFP, which needs $64 million to support the refugees for the rest of December.

Please visit our giving page to help our brothers and sisters during this hour of great need. Please remember them in your prayers.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees Relief

1 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople kisses Pope Francis as they embrace during an ecumenical prayer service in the patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul on 29 November.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

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