12 August 2014
Iraqi Christian refugees gather in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 4 August. Witnesses claim refugees are dying in the crowded camps. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
Priest from Nineveh: ‘Christianity is finished in Iraq’ (Catholic News Agency) A priest hailing from what used to be Iraq’s largest Christian city has lamented the exodus of over 100,000 Christians from the city, many of whom are fleeing on foot with no food, money or water. “Today the story of Christianity is finished in Iraq,” said a priest who identified himself as Father Nawar…
Aleppo’s forgotten Christians (Al Monitor) Walking through the largely Christian neighborhoods of Aleppo city — Azizieh, Siryan, Sulaimaniyah and Midan — you can still see the posters of the two bishops kidnapped by Islamist militants last year hanging on shop windows, walls and even cars. The people here haven’t forgotten them; the event is still as painful and fresh as if it had happened just yesterday. The bishops’ kidnapping was a symbolic event, indicative of the larger collapse of interfaith communal relations in a country under the strain of a sectarian civil war, and marking the end of a long era of relative peace and safety for the Christians of Syria. But fear of a new kind permeates this ancient and deeply rooted community. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are very real threats that haunt the collective conscience of Syria’s Christians. The terrible fate that befell their co-religionists across the border in Mosul has driven these points home in a rather blunt and frightening way…
Gaza truce holds for second day (Al Jazeera) Talks to end a month-long war between Israel and Gaza militants are “difficult,” Palestinian delegates said on Tuesday, while an Israeli official said no progress had been made so far. As a 72-hour cease-fire held for a second day on Tuesday, Palestinian negotiators began talks with Egyptian intelligence after a meeting on Monday that lasted nine hours and the Israeli delegation returned to Cairo…
Violence in Gaza leads to youth radicalization (Der Spiegel) This war has demonstrated that there is no military solution to the Gaza problem. Every confrontation in recent years, each new round of reciprocal killings, has pushed more people to the radical fringes. There is no way around the need to improve living conditions in the Gaza Strip, and it is in Israel’s interest to recognize that imperative…
New report revisits Cairo killings last year, alleges ‘crimes against humanity’ (Washington Post) Egyptian security forces likely committed crimes against humanity by carrying out mass killings of anti-government demonstrators in Cairo last summer, and former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi — now Egypt’s president — should be investigated for his role in the atrocities, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a new report released Tuesday…
A Ukrainian murder mystery ensnares a church in former rebel stronghold (Christian Science Monitor) On a warm June morning, a dozen masked, armed men burst into the Church of the Transfiguration in the Ukrainian town of Slaviansk, demanding to know who among its 300 congregants owned the four expensive vehicles parked in front. Four men stepped forward — the church priest’s two grown sons, Ruvim and Albert Pavenko, and two deacons, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko — and were quickly hustled out of the large, Soviet-era edifice, thrust into their cars, and forced to drive away with the rebels. After 35 agonizing days of searching came evidence that all four were dead…
11 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Iraqi Christians
A displaced woman and child flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, on 10 August Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 Yezidi ethnic minorities, an Iraqi human rights minister said. (photo: CNS/ Rodi Said, Reuters)
The crisis facing Christians and other minorities in Iraq shows no sign of abating. This morning, we received an email from our regional director Michel Constantin in Beirut, who described his phone conversation with Bishop Geryes El Kass Moussa, patriarchal vicar of the Syriac Catholic Church in Iraq:
The bishop is at present in Erbil and is staying with the displaced and refugee Christians. During our phone conversation, I heard lot of shouting around him. He informed me that the Christian youth were preparing to go to the U.S. consulate in Erbil to ask for help to free their villages and receive the immediate emergency help to resist the harsh conditions they are facing.
He also informed me that the 130,000 Christians who fled their villages near Mosul have spent their fifth consecutive night under the sky without any mattresses, covers or tents. The U.N. is providing only some food rations without milk for children; all church yards are full of refugees. The local churches are providing whatever they can afford, but the needs are overwhelming.
Meantime, the response around the world has been inspiring, from generous Americans responding to our appeals through emails, newspapers, radio, blogs and social media. Many continue to ask how they can help.
Secure online donations can be made at www.cnewa.org, by phone at 800.442.6392 or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195. CNEWA is a religious charitiy registered in the state of New York, so all contributions are tax deductible.
You can read more about our current emergency appeal here.
Thank you for your generosity and your prayers!
11 August 2014
Tags: Iraq CNEWA Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
A few days ago, the Archdiocese of Toronto posted on its blog an excellent primer on the unfolding crisis in Iraq—complete with advice on how others can help. We post it below for your information and guidance.
QUESTION: What is happening in Iraq?
ANSWER: In June 2014, the Islamic State (IS), formerly called ISIS — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIL Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, had seized a large section of the country’s northern region including the city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Since the takeover, the militant group has given Christians an ultimatum: Convert, Flee, or Die. Christians were given up to July 19, 2014 deadline to choose. For those Christians who did not comply with the decree by 19 July, Isis warned that, “there is nothing to give them but the sword.”
QUESTION: How is this related to the symbol ﻥ?
ANSWER: This symbol ﻥ is the letter ’N’ in Arabic, used by the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) to identify who is a Nazarene — another word for Christian. It has been drawn on doorways and in front of houses in captured Iraqi cities, allowing militants to quickly assert where the loyalties of the inhabitants lie.
QUESTION: Who is the Islamic State?
ANSWER: The Islamic State is the group that during the Iraq War was often referred to as “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” The group claims it is an independent state with claims to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War and pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2004. The group has targeted military and governments of Iraq and Syria, but has also claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. According to a study compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, the Islamic State has plans to seize power and turn the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state.
QUESTION: How many Christians live in the Mosul region?
ANSWER: As of July 2003, about 35,000 Christians lived in the city of 2 million people. This number had dwindled to approximately 25,000 by the time of the Islamic State takeover, and only a few hundred Christian families remained in the city until recently.
QUESTION: What is the significance of Mosul?
ANSWER: Mosul is the ancient city of Niniveh, one of the holiest cities for Middle Eastern Christian groups. The city of Nineveh is mentioned in the Bible in Genesis, 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jonah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Matthew. Along with its Biblical connection, the city reportedly contains the tomb of the Old Testament prophet Jonah. The Islamic State destroyed a mosque built upon the burial site on July 24, 2014 because the militants claimed the mosque had become a place for apostasy.
QUESTION: What happened in Qaraqosh on 6-7 August?
ANSWER: The Kurdish forces abandoned their posts in Qaraqosh, Tel Eskof and Qaramlesh after a violent confrontation with IS. The largest concentration of Christians in Iraq was forced to flee for their lives. Less than 10,000 Christians (out of 100,000) remained in Qaraqosh and surrounding villages; the remaining 90,000 have left at night by foot, buses and private cars towards Erbil and other cities.
QUESTION: Where are the Christians now?
ANSWER: Most Christians in Mosul have fled 55 miles to the east, to the city of Erbil, the capital and largest city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Erbil’s governor, Nawzad Hadi, has pledged to protect fleeing Christians and other minority groups. According to the United Nations, the territory is currently home to more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced people from Iraq and Syria.
QUESTION:What about local efforts?
ANSWER: Cardinal Collins has invited prayers as well as financial support for those who wish to join in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East. In addition, more than two-thirds of our 225 Catholic churches have been involved in refugee sponsorship over the last several years. Some 820 refugees from the Middle East, many Iraqi Christians, have been sponsored by churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto, making us the largest Canadian private sponsor of refugees from the region.
QUESTION: Are Catholic groups assisting Christians in the Middle East?
ANSWER: Yes. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is a papal agency providing humanitarian and pastoral support for Christians all over the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Northeast Africa and India. They have offices in Jerusalem, Beirut, Lebanon and Amman, Jordan that work in Iraq and Syria with local dioceses and bishops and religious to provide humanitarian relief and ongoing support. Visit this link for more information. (In Canada, you can donate at this link.) The Archdiocese of Toronto will channel any funds collected through this papal agency.
For those parishes or individuals wishing to offer financial support, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) has launched an emergency aid appeal. Those wishing to contribute may do so in the following ways:
Online through the Archdiocese of Toronto website.
By phone through the Development office: 416-934-3411
Through the parish, making cheques payable to:
Name of Parish — Iraqi Christians (Parishes may use humanitarian relief envelopes and are asked to gather funds and send one parish cheque to the Development Office, made out to: Archdiocese of Toronto — Iraqi Christians)
11 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
Smoke rises in the Gaza Strip after an Israeli strike on 8 August.
(photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
The National Catholic Register this week has some very good insight into the ongoing crisis in Gaza — and the toll it is taking on the people there:
“Gaza was in a very difficult, potentially full-blown, humanitarian crisis situation six weeks before the conflict,” said Matt McGarry, country representative for Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza at Catholic Relief Services, speaking to the Register from Gaza City.
“There are 1.8 million people that live in this tiny little stretch of land without the capacity to grow enough food to support itself on a tiny, contaminated aquifer. We can’t get in or out or sail more than three miles off of the coast. And this is not a new situation, but one that has grown over quite some time,” he said.
“We and other organizations said [Gaza] is really kind of perched on the edge of a potentially humanitarian crisis, and
[it] wouldn’t take much to push it over. And with the fighting in the last month being intense, it has emphatically pushed the situation into a full-on humanitarian crisis.”
...Michael La Civita, communications director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), said that unless Gaza is lifted out of its economic misery and freedom of movement for its people restored, the region is headed for a conflict that would make the present struggle between Hamas and Israel “look like a sandlot fight.”
“You’re basically talking about a strip of land that is smaller than Manhattan, which is densely populated with almost no infrastructure,” he said.
Gaza City’s playground “Friendship Park” was a donation from CNEWA after one of its donors saw how the children were playing in trash heaps and open sewers.
“It was something that did not exist there: grass, swings, things of that nature,” he said. The playground has survived the bombings of Gaza, but not the massive use it has received from the children of Gaza, and it will need to be replaced soon.
But despite that small local improvement, La Civita stressed that the “situation has only gotten worse, not better,” under the blockade. Moreover, Hamas was not starved out, and the crushing poverty is radicalizing people to the point where Hamas — which the U.S. State Department has officially designated as a terrorist organization — appears to be losing its grip over other extremist groups that La Civita says made Hamas look moderate.
“If there is going to be a political solution, there first has to be an economic solution,” he said, noting that former Israeli President Shimon Peres made that same prediction back in 2003, when he was foreign minister, during the Oslo Accords.
“A vast majority of people affected by this are innocent men, women, children and elderly, and they are civilians,” he said. “And they have nothing to do with this.”
Although they number less than 3,000 people, he said the Christians in Gaza have been in the forefront of aiding people devastated by the violence. Catholic and non-Catholic agencies have been meeting regularly, coordinating their efforts and discussing how best to serve the people and not duplicate their services.
Said La Civita, “It’s important to understand that, in the middle of all this, the Church is a beacon of hope.”
There is much more to read and absorb. Visit this link to read it all.
Meantime, the organization EWASH (Emergency Water and Sanitation/Hygiene) in the occupied Palestinian territory offers some sobering statistics:
- 1.8 million people in Gaza have limited access to water—or no access at all, and the number is growing.
- 90% of wells, waste water treatment plants and desalination plants cannot operate due to power cuts and lack of fuel.
- 90% of water from the Coastal Aquifer is unfit for human consumption.
Check out more at this graphic at the EWASH website.
And to learn how you can help the people of Gaza, visit this page.
11 August 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Hunger Water
Emil, a Catholic Iraqi refugee, hides his face during a posed photo at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Beirut on 8 August. The resident of Mosul, Iraq, fled his hometown with family members after receiving threats from Islamic State militants. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)
11 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I speaks to the media after a meeting with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, in Najaf on 9 August. (photo: CNS/Alaa al Marjani, Reuters)
Alarming refugee situation points to severity of disaster (Chaldean Patriarchate) Refugee families face a choice. Migration: Where and do they have the necessary documents and money? Staying: In the halls and in the refugee camps, waiting the summer to end and winter to come? Will the schools be reopened and will their children go to elementary schools, high schools or colleges? Will they be welcomed in the schools in Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah? What is the future of the properties and belongings, along with the jobs, of these thousands of innocent people forced to fee overnight from their dear villages? These are questions that should stir the conscience of every person and organization to act…
Pope Francis: Angelus appeal for peace in Iraq, Gaza (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis renewed his call for prayer and concrete assistance for the suffering populations of Iraq this Sunday. Addressing the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the traditional Angelus prayer, the pope also offered prayerful appeals for an end to the fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in Gaza, and for the victims of the Ebola outbreak and for all those fighting to stop it…
Iraq: US plans rescue mission for besieged Yazidi refugees (The Guardian) The United States is exploring options to evacuate thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq by Islamic militants after four nights of humanitarian relief airdrops, officials in Washington said. At least half of the 40,000 people besieged by jihadists on Mount Sinjar had escaped by Sunday night, aided by Kurdish rebels who crossed from Syria to rescue them…
Fresh ceasefire agreement holds in Gaza (Al Jazeera) A new 72-hour ceasefire has held into Monday morning in the Gaza Strip, raising hopes for a fresh respite in a bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas that has devastated the Palestinian enclave. The truce was agreed after Egypt said it had received “simultaneous consensus” from both sides for the truce, which began Sunday evening…
Egypt’s Pope Tawadros urges Sisi to continue church restoration (Copts United) Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros and leaders of other Egyptian Christian churches have urged Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al Sisi to continue to support the restoration of churches damaged in anti-Coptic assaults reportedly by supporters of ousted president Muhammad Morsi in August of 2013, a month after the ouster of the Islamist president…
Farmer suicides reflect growing desperation in rural India (Los Angeles Times) About every 30 minutes in India, a farmer commits suicide. Since 1995, the first year the government began keeping detailed records, about 300,000 farmers have taken their lives. The 2011 census found that the suicide rate for farmers was 47 percent higher than the national average. The suicides are a well-known phenomenon in India, where newspapers regularly carry stories about farmers — almost always men — taking their lives by hanging, drowning or ingesting pesticides. Yet there are few programs to provide farm families with the psychological support that experts say they need to relieve the worries of rural life…
Israeli Supreme Court rules on separation wall in the Cremisan Valley (Society of St. Yves) The Israeli Supreme Court announced its decision on the route of the separation wall in the Cremisan valley in Beit Jala, following the hearing held on 4 August 2014. The court decided Israel must take into consideration different possibilities by which both Salesian convents in Cremisan are taken in and included within the Palestinian side of the wall. The court gave Israel until 4 September to respond to its decision…
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq India Iraqi Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict Iraqi Refugees
A woman and several children who fled from violence in Nineveh province in Iraq, arrive in a covered truck at Sulaimaniya province on 8 August. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
This morning, I spoke with a member of the San Egidio Community in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil, who has been very active in responding to the needs of displaced Christian families.
He informed me that most of the 80,000 Christians displaced from the towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Qaramlesh spent the night in Erbil, outside the churches in the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa.
He also informed me that the Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches are collaborating and there is an effort to create an emergency unit that includes Chaldean Catholics as well.
He mentioned that at present the United Nations has started to build two camps for Christian refugees in Erbil and Dohuk. They will install 5,000 tents in each camp, and will provide enough mattresses and covers, in addition to food rations, for each family.
According to him, the most urgent need is medical care and medication, especially for the chronically ill.
He promised to keep us updated with whatever statistics he can get about the needs and the proper ways to respond to the needs.
Visit this page to learn how you can support Christian refugees under siege in Iraq.
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
Displaced people are seen resting on the ground at an area in Duhok, Iraq, on 7 August. (photo: CNS/courtesy Christian Aid Program)
The Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, vice chair of the CNEWA Board of Directors in Canada, has asked Canadians to provide concrete help to Iraq’s Christians, who have been targeted by militants of the Islamic State.
The recent attacks on Christian communities in Mosul and Qaraqosh have been among the most disturbing acts of violence committed against religious minorities on Iraqi soil. “Islamist extremists, intent on eliminating any trace of Christianity, have cast out tens of thousands of Christians, a people with an almost 2,000-year history in the region,” Cardinal Collins said in his letter.
In his call for action, Cardinal Collins urges the Canadian government to play a greater role in crisis resolution and to expand available spaces for Iraqi Christians seeking asylum in Canada.
The Archdiocese of Toronto has been playing a leading role in assisting Iraqi Christians and it is the largest private sponsor of Middle East refugees to Canada. In 2010, Cardinal Collins himself sponsored an Iraqi family resettling in Canada.
Cardinal Collins announced this week that all funds received for the assistance of Iraqi Christians by the archdiocese will be delivered to the Middle East through CNEWA’s network.
The cardinal’s statement is below:
Statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto,
re: Iraqi Christians
Far away from the comfort of our television screens, tablets and newspapers, a tragedy continues to unfold in Iraq. Islamist extremists, intent on eliminating any trace of Christianity, have cast out tens of thousands of Christians, a people with an almost 2,000-year history in the region.
Shortly after I began my mission as Archbishop of Toronto, 7 years ago, the Archbishop of Mosul visited me and shared his hopes for caring for his community. He wanted to build a little school, and we tried to help him. He also told me of what his people were suffering even then. Now Mosul, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, is devoid of any trace of Christianity. Churches have been desecrated and destroyed. Families have been told they must convert to Islam or die.
Scenes unfold daily of residents forced to flee their homes, stripped of their possessions, right down to the crosses around their necks, while others are murdered, martyrs literally laying down their lives for their faith. In 2003, there were an estimated one million Christians in Iraq; some suggest that no more than 150,000 remain today.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that this persecution could be considered a “crime against humanity.” Iraqi Christians have been begging the world to help them. It is fair to question whether the world is listening?
From a distance, we ask ourselves, what to do? It is good that our Prime Minister has condemned this violence in Iraq. We can urge the Canadian government to use its full diplomatic influence to support the demands of the Archbishops of Mosul, led by His Beatitude Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I. These faith leaders have urged the Iraqi national government to:
Provide full protection of all religious rights and those of other minorities who wish to remain in their homeland.
Offer financial support for displaced families who have lost everything.
Compensate victims for damages and losses suffered by Christians, providing immediate shelter and educational facilities to those forced now to live in refugee camps.
In Canada, I appeal to our government to expand available spaces for Iraqi Christians seeking refuge in our country, and to remove any bureaucratic impediments to their reception. The Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, through the generosity of our parishes, has sponsored 820 refugees from the Middle East, many Iraqi Christians, over the past three years. As the largest Canadian private sponsor of refugees from the region, we stand ready to welcome more, with parishes mobilized to facilitate sponsorship and settlement at a moment’s notice. Let us accelerate the process at once.
We would do well to follow the lead of countries, like France, that have announced publicly their intention to provide asylum for those who are persecuted. Canada should take immediate action to provide a safe haven for those forced to flee their homeland. In Iraq, religious freedom is not just being tested; it is being assaulted.
As always, we join in prayer and solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq. In the words of Pope Francis, “Violence will not win over violence. Violence is won over by peace!”
Let us pray for an authentic peace in Iraq and in so many other troubled places in the world.
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Canada
Two years ago, I wrote a piece on religious minorities in the Middle East. At the time the civil war in Syria brought the Alawites to the consciousness of the Western world. In my essay, I tried to cover briefly as many of the religious minorities as possible. Most people in the west had never heard of these groups and they were more curiosities than newsmakers.
But in the ongoing tragedy that is the contemporary Middle East, yesterday’s curiosities become today’s headlines. With the brutal onslaught of the forces of ISIS, Christians and other minorities have become targets for extermination. One of these minorities is the Yazidis. Though virtually unknown outside the Middle East, they are now front page news in the western media, as ISIS engages in an act of genocide against them. Who are these people? What do they believe?
Here’s a glimpse, from ONE magazine in 2012:
The Yazidis constitute one of the smallest and most interesting religious minorities in the Middle East. It is estimated that there are less than 100,000 of them living in parts of Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. They believe that they are not descended from the biblical Eve and, hence, hold themselves apart from non-believers.
Though they believe in one God, that deity is not interested in the running of the cosmos. That task has been handed over to Mal’ak Tus (“peacock angel”), who together with six other angels manages creation.
Yazidis do not believe in the existence of evil but believe that purification occurs through the transmigration of souls, similar to what is believed in the religions of India. Influences of Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be found in the practices of the Yazidis.
Who could possibly be the next targets of Sunni extremism in the Middle East? There are a number of minorities who could be at risk. Read more in Religious Minorities in the Middle East from the March 2012 edition of ONE.
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq War Iraqi Refugees Yazidi religious freedom
In this image from 2009, Italian Archbishop Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, walks with a Swiss Guard at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Danilo Schiavella, pool via Reuters)
This morning, it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed a personal envoy to help Christians in Iraq:
Pope Francis is sending a cardinal to Iraq to help thousands of Christians fleeing the rapid advance of jihadis from the Islamic State (IS), the Vatican says.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, a former papal nuncio to the country, is being sent to Iraqi Kurdistan to show the pope’s “spiritual support and the church’s solidarity with the people who are suffering,” papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
He said Filoni would be departing soon but gave no date.
The Vatican has come in for criticism from Eastern Christians not doing more to help the persecuted minority, who are fleeing into the mountains alongside thousands of members of the minority Yazidi community in the face of a rapid advance north by Sunni extremists.
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees