27 August 2014
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III, left, speaks to other Christian leaders during a visit to Iraqi refugees in Erbil, Iraq. Seen on the right is Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl, courtesy Maronite Patriarchate)
Returning from a visit to the Kurdish region of Iraq, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III called the Islamic State invasion “pure and simple religious cleansing and attempted genocide.”
Catholic News Service reports:
“What we, the five patriarchs, saw in Ain Kawa, Erbil and other cities of Kurdistan, was something indescribable in terms of the violation of human rights and the threat of disappearing of various communities among the vulnerable minorities of Northern Iraq,” Patriarch Ignatius Joseph said. “It is a pure and simple religious cleansing and attempted genocide.
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph and Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II stayed in Iraq for six days after arriving as part of a delegation of Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs who visited Erbil to give moral and spiritual support to the beleaguered Iraqis from the Ninevah Plain. The displaced minorities -- Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and Shabaks -- sought refuge there from their besieged towns and villages, which fell to Islamic State militants in early August after they were evicted for their religious affiliation.
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph spoke to Catholic News Service about the flood of displaced Iraqis they encountered.
In the Kurdistan region, “we saw hundreds of families still living on the streets, exposed to an unbearable heat wave, lacking the basic needs and primarily fearing for their future,” as winter approaches, the Catholic leader said. Temperatures in the Kurdish region currently climb above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, yet winters are harsh and freezing, often with torrential rain and snow.
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph said the most-asked question by many of the Christian refugees was, “Can we ever return?”
“At that question, the most feared answer was: No answer could be given,” he said.
The patriarch said that along with the little financial assistance they could offer the displaced, the patriarchs “prayed with them, consoling, encouraging and inspiring them with Christian ‘Hope against all hope,’ repeatedly reminding them of the promise of the Lord: ‘Do not be afraid, you little flock. … I will be with you until the end of time.’ ”
Read more about the patriarchs’ visit here.
27 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
The Iraqi army is only able to reach Amirli by air, as the Islamic State controls the territory below. (video: Al Jazeera)
Iraqi Christians weigh taking up arms against the Islamic State (National Geographic) Of all the many ancient peoples who once lived in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, Iraq’s Assyrian Christians pride themselves on having persisted in their traditional homeland for millennia, even as other civilizations thrived then disappeared, as languages and cultures died out, as ethnic groups melted into the ways and genetic pools of their conquerors. But today Iraq’s Assyrians, and its Christians in general, fear that their place in this multiethnic, multisectarian mosaic society is shrinking, under severe threat from the ultraconservative Islamist group the Islamic State…
Cease-fire between Israel and Hamas holding (Washington Post) An open-ended cease-fire between Hamas and Israel was holding Wednesday after seven weeks of warfare that killed more than 2,200 people. The Israeli military said early Wednesday that there had been no reports of violations since the cease-fire with Gaza went into effect Tuesday evening. The army later said it responded to fire from across the border with Syria after an officer was injured earlier in the day…
Syrian refugees in Gaza suffer second war (Al Monitor) The Gaza Strip was a haven for Palestinian refugees in Syria and for some Syrians — with around 1,000 refugees, including 260 families, 20 of whom are of Syrian origin — until the war made it an undesirable destination. Atef al Amawi, a Palestinian refugee from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, arrived in Gaza about two years ago with his family of ten, including his wife, three daughters, son and grandson. The family settled in two rented apartments in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. In an apartment that does not exceed 100 square meters (1,076 square feet), two other families of more than 18 members live with the Amawi family. Some of them left days ago for Syria due to the intensified bombing and poor living conditions…
Despite persecution Odisha Christians rooted in faith (Vatican Radio) As Christians in India’s eastern state of Odisha on Monday marked the 6th anniversary of the 2008 anti-Christian violence centered in Kandhamal District, a top Catholic leader of the state asserted that faith in the crucified Christ has never abandoned them. “Our people live in truth and love, and despite our suffering, vocations to the religious life have increased. Six years have passed from the terror carried out by Hindu extremists but the witness offered by the victims remain steadfast, and this has produced fertile seeds,” said Archbishop John Barwa Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar…
Kerala church gives bishops right to allow cremation of dead (The Indian Express) The Synod of Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has decided that from now on bishops of various dioceses can permit cremation of the dead, instead of the traditional burial. Although the church had allowed cremation under extraordinary situations, the right to permit that practice was till vested with the major archbishop, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church…
26 August 2014
Tags: Iraq India Gaza Strip/West Bank Iraqi Christians War
In this image from 2010, Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf arrives for the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East at the Vatican, accompanied by Msgr. Philippe Brizard, former director of the aid agency L’Oeuvre d’Orient. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Today, we received an email from Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, with some important news on the work being undertaken to support our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq.
Michel notes he will be visiting Iraqi Kurdistan in early September — to coordinate better our activities to expedite relief — and he’ll have some company:
The Union of the Superior Generals of women religious in Lebanon decided to participate in this visit, to show solidarity with other congregations and sisters working in Iraq. Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf (superior general of the Good Shepherd Sisters) will represent the union and accompany CNEWA in this visit.
The president of the union, Sister Judith Haroun, has asked all member congregations to contribute financially and to collect funds to help the following congregations at work in Iraq:
The Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena
The Chaldean Sisters of Mary
The Sacred Heart Sisters
The Syrian Catholic Ephremite Sisters
The Franciscan Sisters
Michel also noted that CNEWA will be coordinating its work with Sister Marie-Claude to make sure funds will be distributed where they can do the most good and have the greatest impact.
At a time when so many in Iraq are feeling desperate, overwhelmed and forgotten, this visit from Sister Marie-Claude and others can be a powerful and consoling witness — and, God willing, a beacon of hope. CNEWA is proud to be able to lend our support and to stand alongside these sisters and so many others who are bringing the love of Christ to those who today are so desperately in need.
Won’t you join us? To help Iraqi Christians under seige, just visit this page — and you will stand with us as we stand with them.
26 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees Relief
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, his wife Maryna and son Mykhailo, light candles on 23 August as they attend a service in Kiev’s Hagia Sofia Cathedral after a ceremony commemorating Ukrainian Independence Day. Pope Francis also prayed for peace in Ukraine on 24 August during his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Mikhail Palinchak, pool via EPA)
26 August 2014
A Palestinian woman inspects her damaged house in Gaza City on 11 August. A senior Catholic aid official said humanitarians are “trying to pick of the pieces” of Gaza’s badly destroyed infrastructure, hoping that the truce between Israel and the militant Hamas will hold. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
Gaza conflict: Hamas says long-term truce agreed with Israel (BBC) Egypt has brokered an agreement on a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, senior Palestinian officials have said. Hamas negotiator Moussa Abu Marzouk said the deal to end seven weeks of fighting that has left more than 2,200 people dead would be announced shortly. The Palestinians said Israel had agreed to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow in aid supplies and building materials. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government. The apparent breakthrough came as both sides continued to trade fire…
Syrian bishop calls for international peace force for Syria (Vatican Radio) An international peace force is needed to hold back the onslaught of so-called Islamic State militants who continue to make gains in Syria and Iraq, according to Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo…
Forgotten in Iraq: Besieged city faces destruction by Islamic State (Der Spiegel) The world took notice when the Yazidis needed help. But since June, a Turkmen city in northern Iraq has been under siege by the Islamic State. The death toll continues to mount but, thus far, the people of Amirli have been left to fight the IS on their own…
Strikes by Ukrainian military destroy second Orthodox church in Donbass (ITAR-TASS) Shells fired by Ukrainian troops have destroyed a second Orthodox church in the war-torn Donetsk region, said Georgy Guliyev, press secretary of the Donetsk Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate. “There was a square hit at the church in the name of St John of Kronstadt, which is located in the western suburbs of Donetsk,” he said, adding that the subsequent fire caused further damage…
Egypt deports Palestinian Syrians back to conflict zones (Al Monitor) Palestinian-Syrian refugees in Egypt are being forced to choose between deportation to Gaza or Syria as human rights groups denounce the practice. Deportations by the Egyptian authorities can often go quietly, undocumented and unreported. As a result, there are no definitive figures available on how many Palestinians from Syria have been deported by Egypt since the Syrian conflict began…
25 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Refugees Israeli-Palestinian conflict Middle East Peace Process
Five days a week, 40 senior citizens come to the Harmony Center to eat, browse and socialize in warmth and safety. (photo: Molly Corso)
Reporter and photographer Molly Corso chronicles the life of Georgia’s New Orphans in the Summer edition of ONE. Below, she offers some insight into the people she met.
Georgians love love, and the beginning and the end of love are tied up in the family. From a very young age, Georgians are taught by their own relations — as well as songs and movies — that first allegiances lie with the family, and a family takes care of its own.
For the 40 elderly clients of Caritas Georgia’s Harmony Center — and hundreds in Tbilisi who still need assistance — those expectations of love, respect and life long care, however, have fallen flat.
For many, there is no one at home waiting for them: sons, daughters, grandchildren are either dead, abroad or too tied up with their own problems to help.
The poverty they face — the effort to eke out an existence with less than $80 a month to buy food and pay for heat, not to mention fend off the terrifying list of doctors, medication and treatment they need — is just part of the battle.
In the hours I spent with the men and women who have found a haven at the Harmony Center, it is clear that, as much as they need medication and doctors, they desperately require a safe place to make friends, to be respected. They need someone to care.
And for many of these people, there is no one, except for Caritas. It is only at the Caritas Georgia day center someone cares, only there that someone takes the time to listen to their stories. And what a history they have to tell.
Behind every pair of glasses, donated sweater and free meal, there beats the heart of a man or woman who lived a full life, experienced the Soviet Union for all its brutality and benefit, saw war, lived through revolution and emerged as part of a free and sovereign Georgia — alive, but also alone.
There is Jenya, age 90. An architect who taught at the university, she still dresses to the nines and, in her carefully selected handbag, carries a portable CD player and earphones so she can listen to music after lunch.
And Leli, who will turn 92 this year. As nurse on the front lines during World War II, she saw the worst, and the best, of humanity in the fighting in Ukraine and Poland. Last year she was invited by a group of veterans from the war to travel to Ukraine and be honored for her role saving soldiers. She went, even though it meant flying on a plane. She was given a hero’s welcome.
There are scores of others: doctors, academics, housewives, all the people who helped build an empire. Their lives are a reflection of all the turmoil created by the Soviet Union — a childhood overshadowed by the war and the cult of Stalin, their youth spent working in good faith, and now, in what should be the twilight of their old age, the poverty and destitution that have become the hallmarks of transition countries such as Georgia.
Caritas Georgia’s day center provides them with a safe place to stay warm and get something to eat — a vitally important service for people who have nowhere else to turn and no one else to help them. But more than just providing heat and food when pensions are not enough to do either, Caritas Georgia also provides nourishment for their soul: the Harmony Center has created a community where these 40 people, cut off from the support their society should provide, make friends and feel important.
Once inside the center, for a few hours a day they are not defined by their poverty and isolation. They are no longer just one more poor, needy pensioner on the bus. Through Caritas, they have created a family of their own, a family where they are known and cherished for themselves, remembered for their accomplishments and honored for their efforts to help others.
As they say in Georgia, family is everything.
Read more about Caring for Georgia’s New Orphans in the Summer edition of ONE. And to support the needy elderly of Eastern Europe, visit our giving page.
25 August 2014
Tags: Georgia Eastern Europe Economic hardships Caring for the Elderly Pensioners
Protesters in Stuttgart, Germany, rally during a demonstration on 23 August initiated by the Syrian Orthodox Church in solidarity with religious minorities threatened in northern Iraq and throughout the Middle East. To support Christians under siege in Iraq, visit our special giving page. (photo: CNS/Inga Kjer, EPA)
25 August 2014
Tags: Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees Germany
Members of the Yazidi religious minority who fled from violence in Mosul, Iraq, receive aid on 21 August in Dohuk province, in the northern part of the country. The Franciscan custos of the Holy Land said force alone cannot stop “religious cleansing” in the Middle East. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Armenian Apostolic catholicos condemns atrocities against Yazidis (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin) His Holiness Karekin II, patriarch and catholicos of All Armenians, has sent a supportive letter to the temporal leader of All Yazidis, His Sublime Highness Mir Tahsin Saied Beg, which was delivered through His Eminence Archbishop Avak Asadourian, primate of the Armenian Eparchy of Iraq. “From the spiritual center of All Armenians, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, we convey to you our condolences on the tragedy suffered by the Yazidi people in Iraq. We strongly condemn the atrocities against the Yazidi people, and are deeply disturbed by the inhumane violence that has destroyed the lives of countless innocent victims in recent days,” the letter said in part…
Iraqi patriarch: Do not remain indifferent to our suffering (Vatican Radio) “The international community, and in particular the European Union and the United States cannot remain indifferent” to the “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding at the hands of Islamic State militants. With these words, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael renewed his urgent appeal on behalf of Christians and other persecuted minorities in Iraq…
In Zaatari refugee camp, early marriage often trumps school (Al Monitor) Rahaf still giggles when she talks about her husband. Newly married to another resident of Zaatari, the world’s largest Syrian refugee camp, the 16-year-old from Daraa carries a picture from their wedding day under her dress, “just above her heart,” she says. “I’m lucky. He’s Syrian, too,” she gushes. Her husband, Gassem, is 25 and the couple hopes to have children soon. Such is the case for other Syrian girls living in Zaatari: The path of marriage trumped the option of going to school…
Migrant workers in Jordan face abuse (Daily Star Lebanon) When Lucy met a representative of a Jordanian employment agency in the Philippines, the official promised her a sales position in Jordan with a salary increase after two months, allowing Lucy to send money back to her family overseas. Lucy, a Filipino migrant worker in Amman, Jordan, requested that her full name not be used, fearing to speak on a sensitive topic. Yet when she arrived in Jordan, she quickly realized that her working environment was far different than promised. The agency placed her instead as a domestic worker earning a mere $150 monthly. Forced to work long hours, she was not even permitted to carry her own cell phone. Lucy’s experience is typical of the problems facing many migrant workers in Jordan, struggling amid miserable treatment by their employers — and sometimes by the Jordanian authorities themselves…
As battles rage, Catholics in Ukraine request Independence Day prayers (CNS) As Ukrainians prepared to mark their 24 August Independence Day under the cloud of fierce fighting in the east, Catholic leaders condemned the threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and prayed for a speedy end to the hostilities. At the same time, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk issued a rebuttal to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow’s claims that that the Ukrainian Catholic Church and its priests were fomenting hatred and violence against believers who belong to the Orthodox Church affiliated with Moscow…
22 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Jordan Armenian Apostolic Church Yazidi
People displaced by violence sit outside St. Joseph Chaldean Church in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 14 August. (photo: CNS/courtesy Aid to the Church in Need-USA)
A glimpse at the life of Iraqis on the run, from CNS:
A group of 11 sick, disabled and elderly Iraqi Christians — including an 80-year-old woman with breast cancer — defied terrorists who ordered them to convert to Islam or be beheaded, saying they preferred death to giving up their faith.
The united resistance prompted the Islamic State extremists to drop their demands and order the Christians to immediately leave their village of Karamless after first robbing them of their possessions, according to one of the survivors.
Sahar Mansour, a refugee from Mosul, told Catholic News Service in an 18 August email that the group turned up at Ain Kawa refugee camp, where she is living, after they were released by the Islamist fighters. They had remained behind in Karamless because they were too weak to flee when the town was overrun by Islamic State militants.
Mansour said she met the 80-year-old woman with cancer, who gave her name as Ghazala, in Ain Kawa on 18 August and heard her account of their escape.
“When the people of Karamless fled from the village they [the elderly] were alone,” Mansour said. “She [Ghazala] told me when they woke up in [the] morning they were surprised when they saw nobody in the village.”
Instead they were “afraid and terrified,” she continued, when they met masked fighters from the Islamic State, who ordered them to go home and remain indoors.
Mansour said Ghazala told her that on 16 August, the terrorists assembled the group “and told them either to convert or to be killed by sword.”
“Ghazala told me that all the people told the terrorists that ’we prefer to be killed rather than convert,’ ” Mansour said. She said Ghazala added that members of the group scolded the terrorists for ignoring Islamic sacred texts that forbade forced conversions of non-Muslims.
Mansour said the elderly told the militants that the Islamic State had nothing to gain from the conversion of a group of sick, disabled and elderly people.
“When ISIS heard that they told the people to leave Karamless immediately, without taking anything, to leave with only with the clothes they were wearing,” she said.
Please keep those Iraqis in flight in your prayers. And to help those in need, visit our giving page for Iraqi Christians under siege.
22 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
A Ukrainian woman weeps after being reunited with her son at the Russia-Ukraine border in Russia's Rostov region 22 August. Ukrainians mark Independence Day on 24 August amid ongoing tensions in the East. (photo: CNS/Alexander Demianchuk, Reuters)
With thousands dead, Ukraine refugees say aid is welcome but peace is better (Washington Post) Amid intensifying battles Friday for control of key cities in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine and Russia are clashing over the delivery of food, medicine and other supplies to areas hit by the conflict. But aid, some residents say, is not as critical as peace. “People are able to survive even without electricity and water,” Sologub said as she lay bandaged in a hospital in this government-held village eight miles from Luhansk, a Ukrainian city close to the Russian border that has seen some of the worst combat of the four-month conflict. “But you can’t prepare yourself for bombing…”
Ukrainian Greek Catholic leader discusses the very difficult situation in Ukraine (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) “For nine months Ukrainians, have been on an arduous pilgrimage from post-Soviet fear to freedom and God-given dignity,” Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk wrote in a recent letter. “All of the churches and religious organizations of Ukraine stood together against the violence of the Yanukovych regime, the annexation of Crimea, and the division of the country. … Unfortunately, the beleaguered Ukrainian Catholics, Greek and Roman, faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate and Protestants in the east of Ukraine are further endangered by the rhetoric of the Orthodox leadership in Russia, which is becoming increasingly similar to the propaganda of Russian political authorities and media. … Ukraine needs the effective support of the global Christian community and support of all people of good will…”
Iraqi Christians reach France after fleeing Islamists (BBC) France has welcomed about 40 Iraqi Christian refugees who were flown to Paris from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius greeted them at the airport and said several hundred more Iraqi Christians would be flown to France in the coming weeks. They fled the swift advance of Islamic State militants, who now control big swathes of Iraq and Syria. French officials say Iraqi Christians who already have links with France will be considered more favorably…
Cardinal Fernando Filoni speaks of his mission in Iraq (Fides) Cardinal Fernando Filoni returned from Iraq last night after his visit as personal envoy of Pope Francis, and met the pope this morning to inform him about the mission entrusted to him. In the following interview, the cardinal told Fides Agency about the meetings and impressions that marked the days spent in the devastated Middle Eastern country…
Syrian civil war death toll rises to more than 191,000, according to U.N. (The Guardian) The death toll from Syria’s civil war has risen to more than 191,300 people, the United Nations has said. The U.N.’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, who oversees the Geneva-based office, said the figures are so much higher because they include additional killings from earlier periods, as well as deaths since the last report. “As the report explains, tragically it is probably an underestimate of the real total number of people killed during the first three years of this murderous conflict,” she said…
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Refugees Iraqi Christians