2 June 2015
Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes Sister Diana Momeka to CNEWA’s New York office. (photo: CNEWA)
The first thing that struck me about the veiled woman in white standing in our reception area was: “She’s so little.” The petite Dominican sister with the piercing eyes and dark hair didn’t look like someone who would shake the world.
But I soon learned that her passion and her message are, in fact, earth shaking. Small wonder that this small wonder has made some of the most powerful people in world capitals sit up and take notice.
Sister Diana Momeka left Iraq a few weeks ago to visit the United States; one of her most important stops was Capitol Hill, where she spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Last night, she braved a thunderstorm to drive from Washington to New York, to visit with several of us this morning at the offices of CNEWA. Beyond a reunion between old friends and collaborators — CNEWA has sponsored the work of her congregation for many years — this meeting held a deeper and more poignant purpose. She wanted to share her message about the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees — men, women and children, young and old, healthy and infirm — who fled their homes last year to escape ISIS, and settled in whatever housing they could find in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
It has been a harrowing time — and the Iraqi families aren’t the only ones suffering. Sister Diana and dozens of other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their convent and also settled in Erbil, where they are working tirelessly to help people who sometimes feel helpless.
“My main message,” she told those of us gathered in the board room, “is to get human dignity to people there, in Iraq.” Her words were measured and her focus, laser sharp.
“People,” she continued, “have been humiliated. They are living in slums. These people are human beings with great love, great faith. But when you lose your home, your heritage, your culture, you lose your dignity. When you live in a container, in a tent, you don’t have any privacy, this is not a real human life to live. My hope is to find a way to give dignity back.”
Sister Diana spoke of the great suffering the people are enduring — but also their great faith. She recalled a Mass last month celebrated by CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, who made a pastoral visit to Erbil.
“At Mass,” she said, “at first, they weren’t smiling, but then Msgr. Kozar talked to them and spoke and gave a message of hope and said, ‘I’d like to see you smiling,’ and they smiled and he noticed there is faith there. They attended Mass because they are hungry for words of hope. They appreciate every movement, every step that is taken by the Western world to acknowledge their pain and persecution.”
Msgr. Kozar explained: “When you talk about the faith of these individuals, it is because of their faith that they continue to carry on. Their faith, their village, their church are all synonymous. It’s more than just going to a religious service. It’s everything you are.” He sighed. “And they’ve lost all of it.”
Sister Diana said they are working to rebuild the lives of the people, providing health care, education and a sense of hope. She told of opening a kindergarten to care for young children. “For the first two months,” she said, “we were just trying to get the children to smile, just to smile. They couldn’t smile.” They finally made some breakthroughs with painting and art therapy, but many challenges remain.
“We still feel it’s a nightmare,” she concluded.
She noted with gratitude that CNEWA had been a tremendous support to the sisters and their work — helping fund clinics, provide housing and give both material and spiritual comfort to the displaced Iraqis. “Through your help,” she said, “you have helped us give dignity to people. This is how you care for the Body of Christ that has been hurting.”
But she added, there is still much to do. Many Iraqi families still live in crowded storage containers that, in the heat of the summer, are “unbearable.” And then there are the storms. “We spend nights and nights not being able to sleep because you hear the rain hitting the containers,” Sister Diana said, “and the memory comes back of all the bombs we have heard before.”
And the small woman with the great message emphasized, once more, what she wanted the world to know:
“We need to get back our humanity, our human dignity.”
To support CNEWA’s work in Iraq and to help our suffering brothers and sisters, visit this link. And please keep Sister Diana and all the people of Iraq in your prayers.
1 June 2015
Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees
A sister climbs the stairs at the Good Shepherd convent in Suez, which was burned during an attack in August 2013. CNEWA has just released funds to help rebuild this and other institutions. Read more about the relief effort to help Christians in the Middle East here. And to learn more about the struggles of Christians in Egypt, read “Out of the Ashes” in the Spring 2015
edition of ONE. (photo: David Degner)
1 June 2015
Residents of Nikishyne, Ukraine, sit in the remains of a building on 15 May. Residents returned to the village, which has been heavily damaged by artillery bombardment since February.
(photo: Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
U.N.: death toll in Ukraine tops 6,400 (AP) The United Nations’ human rights office says the number of people killed in more than a year of fighting in eastern Ukraine has risen to over 6,400. The office said Monday that at least 6,417 people have been killed and 15,962 wounded between April last year and Saturday. The latest numbers compare with figures of 6,116 dead and 15,474 wounded given in mid-April. Shelling diminished following a February cease-fire deal, but fighting has worsened in recent weeks...
UNICEF to launch appeal for Iraq (AFP) Humanitarian organisations are preparing to launch a fundraising appeal for $500 million (454 million euros) for the crisis created by the Islamic State group in Iraq, UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency said on Monday. The announcement came a day ahead of a meeting in Paris of the US-led coalition of countries working to defeat the jihadist group in Iraq and Syria. “The humanitarian situation in Iraq is close to disaster! We urgently need extra resources in order to continue assistance,” Philippe Heffinck, UNICEF’s representative in Iraq, said in a statement in French...
Muslim leaders in Syria seeking path for release of kidnapped priest (Fides) Father Jaques Murad, the priest kidnapped in the area of Homs on 21 May, known in the area of the village of Al-Qaryatayn, where he lived in the monastery of St. Elias, was much appreciated for his work proximity, dialogue, closeness and friendship towards the local community, in an area where a large majority are Sunni Muslims. This is why, says a source of Fides, “the Muslim leaders of the community, village chiefs, clan leaders denounced the kidnapping and are now trying to open a channel and find a path for the release.” However, “it seems that the people or groups who seized him are foreign to the social, ethnic and religious fabric of the area...”
ISIS drives back Syria insurgents near Turkey (Reuters) Islamic State fighters advanced against rival insurgents in northern Syria on Sunday, capturing areas close to a border crossing with Turkey and threatening their supply route to Aleppo city, fighters and a group monitoring the war said. Islamic State captured the town of Soran Azaz and two nearby villages after clashes with fighters from a northern rebel alliance, which includes both Western-backed rebels and Islamist fighters. Islamic State will now be able to move along a road leading north to the Bab al-Salam crossing between the Syrian province of Aleppo and the Turkish province of Kilis, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said...
India’s Christians concerned about growing attacks on minorities (RNS) In March, an elderly nun was raped in Calcutta and a Christian school in West Bengal received anonymous threats, according to a Times of India report. In April, St. Mary’s Church in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, was vandalized, setting off a wave of protests. Earlier this month, the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cited an “increase of harassment and violence” among India’s Christian community. The attacks have come against a background of fear that Christians are increasing their efforts to proselytize — especially in schools...
29 May 2015
Tags: Syria India Iraq Ukraine Turkey
In this image from 2011, altar servers assist in a liturgy at Our Lady of Paradise Cathedral
in São Paulo. (photo: Izan Petterle)
In 2011, we took readers to Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, Brazil, spiritual home to an estimated 400,000 people — the largest Melkite Greek community not only in the Americas but in the world. It’s located in the neighborhood of Paraíso (Portuguese for paradise):
Though Paraíso remains the center of Brazil’s Melkite cultural and spiritual life, its demographics have changed dramatically in recent years. Social success and economic prosperity among first– and second–generation Melkite Arab–Brazilians have prompted most to choose more affluent residential communities in São Paulo and its sprawling suburbs.
Fortunately, some longtime residents remain to preserve the neighborhood’s historic Arabic flavor. Strolling Paraíso’s streets, one finds no shortage of Arab–owned restaurants, serving up traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, such as falafel, kibbeh, tajine and hummus. Many of these establishments so far have withstood the test of time, having remained in their families for several generations.
After the liturgy, a small group of parishioners approaches the altar and passes through a door leading to a spacious community hall. There, they gather to socialize and enjoy refreshments. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the sound of casual conversations in Arabic and Portuguese fill the air.
Read more about “Paradise in Brazil” in the July 2011 edition of ONE.
29 May 2015
A large statue of St. Vladimir overlooks Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. The Russian Orthodox Church plans to build a more imposing statue of the saint in Moscow. (photo: Wikipedia)
Proposed huge statue of Russian saint divides Moscow (The New York Times) What the city lacks is a spectacular monument to a religious figure, but the Russian Orthodox Church and the culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, are determined to change that. They have championed a project that will alter the cityscape by erecting an 82-foot-tall statue of St. Vladimir, Russia’s patron saint, atop one of the few hills in Moscow. Muscovites have not embraced the idea. Tens of thousands have signed a petition against the statue, which is to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of St. Vladimir’s death. It is lost on no one that Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, already has a 162-year-old, 54-foot-tall monument to St. Vladimir and that Russia’s conflict with Ukraine helped inspire Moscow’s my-statue-is-bigger-than-yours version...
Nearly 500 bodies exhumed from graves in Iraq (CNN) An Iraqi forensic team has exhumed 499 bodies from a series of graves in the presidential complex in the city of Tikrit, a top official in the Baghdad morgue who is familiar with the operation told CNN on Thursday. The bodies are believed to be those of Iraqi military cadets, whom ISIS claimed to have killed in June 2014 in a massacre at Camp Speicher, a fortified Iraqi base near Tikrit...
Kurdish troops retake some Syrian cities from ISIS (AP) In contrast to the Iraqi army’s failures, Kurdish fighters in Syria are on the march against ISIS, capturing towns and villages in an oil-rich swath of the country’s northeast under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes. As the Kurds close in on Tel Abyad, a major commercial centre on the Turkish border, their advance highlights the decisive importance of combining air power with the presence of a cohesive and motivated ally on the ground — so clearly absent in Iraq...
“Creating a Culture of Peace” conference held in Rome (L’Osservatore Romano) “Creating a Culture of Peace: What can Religions Do?” was the theme of the conference held recently in Rome at the Lay Centre of Foyer Unitas. Twenty-eight students from the the UK’s Cambridge Muslim College and the Centre for Islamic Theology at Germany’s Tubingen University participated in the conference at which Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, presented...
Visiting "Divine Ethiopia" (The Telegraph) There are moments when Ethiopia seems to belong to an atlas of the imagination — part legend, part fairy-tale, part Old Testament book, part pulling your leg. In this land of wonders there are medieval castles of a black Camelot, monasteries among Middle Earth peaks accessible only by rope and chains, the ruined palace of the Queen of Sheba and the original Ten Commandments in a sealed box guarded by mute monks with killer instincts...
28 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ethiopia Russian Orthodox
In this image from January, Iraqi refugees who fled their homes because of ISIS try to hold on to life in a refugee camp in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. (photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images)
Sunnis fleeing ISIS find few doors open elsewhere (The New York Times) With new waves of civilians fleeing violence in Anbar there are now more internally displaced Iraqis, nearly three million, than there were at the height of the bloody sectarian fighting that followed the American invasion, when millions of Iraqis were able to flee to Syria. That door is closed because of that country’s own civil war. And now doors in Iraq are closing, too, worsening sectarian tensions as the Shiite authorities restrict where fleeing Sunnis can seek safety...
ISIS spares some ruins in Palmyra — for now (Science Magazine) Archaeologists around the world feared for the spectacular ruins in Palmyra, Syria, after ISIS militants took over the city and brutalized its population last week. The group had already looted and bulldozed another World Heritage Site, the city of Hatra in Northern Iraq. However, after a preliminary examination of the latest satellite images from Palmyra, Michael Danti, the academic director of the Syrian Heritage Initiative at the American Schools of Oriental Research in Boston, reported that he saw no new damage to the stunning crossroads of Roman, Greek and Persian cultures, whose ruins include the Roman emperor Diocletian’s camp. ISIS has released a video showing that these ruins are still intact. And in an interview released yesterday Wednesday, the head of ISIS’s military forces in Palmyra, Abu Laith al-Saoudi, stated that they would preserve the ruins — perhaps because some buildings lack religious connotations or worship — but destroy the site’s statues, which the group believes are religious idols...
Israel calls on world to help rehabilitate Gaza (Business Standard) Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called upon the international community to establish a body to oversee rehabilitation in the Gaza Strip. “I call on all the nations of the world to come and see how we can formulate an international initiative which will improve the lives and conditions of the residents of Gaza,” the president said on Wednesday, according to a statement from his office, Xinhua reported...
Russia massing firepower on border with Ukraine (Ukraine Today) Russia’s army is massing troops and hundreds of pieces of weaponry including mobile rocket launchers, tanks and artillery at a makeshift base near the border with Ukraine, a Reuters reporter saw this week. Many of the vehicles have number plates and identifying marks removed while many of the servicemen had taken insignia off their fatigues. As such, they match the appearance of some of the forces spotted in eastern Ukraine, which Kiev and its Western allies allege are covert Russian detachments...
Patriarch calls for prayers, fasting for kidnapped priest, deacon (Catholic World News/Fides) Syrian Catholic Patriarch Igance Youssif III has called upon the faithful to fast and pray for the safe release of two clerics who were kidnapped last week by rebel forces. In a message read at all the Syrian Catholic parishes around the world, the Patriarch asked prayers for the safety of Father Jacques Murad and Deacon Boutros Hanna. There has been no news about their status since they were abducted...
Indian Christians say government concerned about attacks on minorities (Vatican Radio) In the backdrop of large scale celebrations and political rallies on completing one year in power at the Centre by the right-wing Hindu nationalist party, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) led government, prominent Christian leaders say they see an attitude change among political leadership which now appears to show genuine concern over attacks on the minority community in the past several months. “The indifference and total silence” regarding the attacks on churches and the Christian community “has now given way to a genuine concern,” said Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad...
27 May 2015
Five-year-old Battoul al Hassan stands outside her family’s temporary home in Jounieh, Lebanon.
(photo: Tamara Hadi)
Two years ago, we focused on the plight of Syrians who had fled to Lebanon, and took note of the toll being a refugee was taking on children:
“The children weren’t aggressive or angry when they arrived,” says school administrator Amale al Hawa of the new Syrian students. “But they were quiet and unable to chitchat with the others. We noticed that, in most cases, they were closed in on themselves.”
Such is the case of 14-year-old Nour al Hassan. She has the body and gait of a girl but a depth and darkness in her face that suggests a young woman who has been through a lot — and she has been. With her father, Ammar, her mother, Shams, and her siblings Issa, 13, Moussa, 10, and Battoul, 5, they fled their home village of Al Houla north of the Syrian city of Homs early one morning last September. The shelling had become just too much to bear. Still, Nour misses home.
“The most difficult thing about being here is that I left everything behind,” she says. “My friends, my family, my grandparents, everyone I love. I left them there and we are alone here.”
After school, Nour and her siblings walk down the hill, pass through a chicken coop to a shack their parents have rented from a Lebanese landlord for the exorbitant price of $300 a month. When the temperature drops, they make do with blankets received from neighbors and an electric heater that barely works. Their landlord forbids them from using too much electricity.
Read more about “Crossing the Border” in the Spring 2013 edition of ONE.
And to learn how you can help Syrians under siege, visit this giving page.
27 May 2015
While ISIS continues to lay siege to parts of Syria, in the video above, a priest from Aleppo describes a side of the Syrian conflict often overlooked: Christians and Muslims living
together in peace. (video: Rome Reports)
ISIS releases two women hostages (Fides) Two elderly women in the group of more than 230 Assyrian Christians taken hostage in February by the State Islamic jihadists in the Syrian north-western region of Jazira, have been released and were admitted to a hospital in Hassaké to be treated for their health problems...
Video claims to show damaged buildings of Palmyra (The Daily Mail) Footage has emerged purportedly showing destroyed ancient buildings inside the Islamic State-held Syrian city of Palmyra following a series of air strikes by the country’s air force. The amateur video shows the area around the central Syrian city largely abandoned, with its millennia-old streets littered with rubble from collapsed and badly damaged buildings. The video emerged just hours after Syrian regime warplanes carried out intense strikes on ISIS targets within Palmyra in an attempt to force the terrorists out of the strategically important desert city in eastern Homs province following their capture of it in a lightning advance last week...
Nepal, India move to protect children from human traffickers (Vatican Radio) Nepal has banned children from travelling without parents or approved guardians to deter human traffickers who authorities fear are targeting vulnerable families after recent devastating earthquakes. Meanwhile, in India, child victims of the Nepal earthquake as young as eight are being rescued from people traffickers amid fears they will be sold into the sex trade...
The village of Pisky, where war still rages in Ukraine (BBC) The conflict in Ukraine is entering its second year and a ceasefire, nominally in place since February, has failed to stop the violence in areas around Donetsk airport. Among the hardest hit is the village of Pisky. It had a population of 3,000 before the war started, but now only a handful of civilians remain...
The plight of Ethiopian Jews in Israel (BBC) The story of the immigration and absorption of Ethiopian Jews in Israel epitomises the best and the worst of Israeli society. True to its Zionist dream of being a haven for Jews, the Jewish state embarked on risky and expensive rescue operations in the 1980’s and 1990s. These brought tens of thousands of Jews from remote parts of Ethiopia, who had suffered from religious persecution, famine and civil wars. Yet, when they arrived in Israel, these distinctive people faced appalling discrimination, racism and a lack of empathy for their hardships in Ethiopia and during their journey to Israel...
26 May 2015
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Ethiopia Israel
Iraqi army tanks get into position on the outskirts of Tikrit in an effort to retake an oil refinery from ISIS on 24 May. (photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)
Iraqi forces launch major offensive against ISIS (CNN) Iraq forces have launched a major military operation to liberate Iraq’s Anbar and Salaheddin provinces from ISIS, Iraqi state media and a key Shia militia group said Tuesday, a little more than a week after the militant group overran Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi. The fighting in Salaheddin province is aimed at cutting a supply route south into Anbar and liberate Baiji city and oil refinery, according to the media office for the militia group, al-Hashd al-Shaabi...
Homs could be next temptation for ISIS in Syria (Haaretz) The Islamic State’s capture of the town of Palmyra is another irreparable blow to one of the world’s most important cultural sites. According to reports from Syria, Islamic State fighters are already damaging antiquities, spreading concerns that ISIS will demolish a heritage that has survived for 2,000 years. Over the past two days, more than 400 people have been killed in the town, and thousands more have been arrested by ISIS forces after Syrian army soldiers fled, even though they were better armed...
Pope Francis sends message for Day of Christian Unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a videomessage on the occasion of the Day for Christian Unity which took place in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States on 23 May...
Cardinal Turkson speaks on Africa Freedom Day (Vatican Radio) Speaking on the occasion of Africa Liberation Day or Africa Freedom Day being celebrated by many African countries on 25 May 2015, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson has spoken passionately about the need for African governments to work towards nation building. Cardinal Turkson, who originates from Ghana, was speaking in Rome during an interview with Fr. Paul Samasumo of Radio Vatican’s English Service for Africa...
Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church join in celebrating saints (AP) Thousands of Russians have filled Red Square to join the patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church in celebrating Slavic literature and the two ninth-century monks considered to be the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet. The religious and patriotic holiday celebrations were in keeping with Kremlin efforts to promote national pride and consolidate society as Russia is under pressure from the West and its economy is heading toward recession...
22 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Russian Orthodox
The father of a man who was killed by ISIS militants in Libya earlier this year attends a service in the Virgin Mary Church near Cairo on 3 May. (photo: CNS/Reuters)