23 October 2014
Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel works on a manuscript at his restoration laboratory in Qaraqosh, Iraq, prior to 6 August. Father Michaeel and his team moved 1,300 manuscripts dating from the 14th to 19th centuries before Islamic State militants invaded Qaraqosh on 6 August.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of Centre Numerique des Manuscrits Orientaux)
It has gone largely unnoticed, but a remarkable effort is underway to preserve priceless pieces of antiquity in Iraq. CNS notes:
Just as the so-called Monuments Men salvaged European masterpieces stolen by Nazi forces during World War II, a Dominican priest is protecting priceless manuscripts from falling into the hands of rampaging militants in northern Iraq.
Though operating on a much smaller scale, Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel and the ancient manuscript collections in his care still face a very real threat.
Islamic State militants have been sweeping across the northern Iraq region in their bid to establish an Islamic state. Their campaign has become increasingly brutal in recent months as they continue to lay siege to unprotected towns and villages, murder hostages, threaten residents, confiscate property and, by many reports, desecrate or ransack religious places of worship.
The Dominicans’ collection of medieval manuscripts and valuable documents that already survived centuries of conflict and potential neglect were now under threat once again.
Early 6 August, the Feast of the Transfiguration, the residents of Qaraqosh woke up to the news that the Kurdish regional forces, known as peshmerga and who had been
repelling militant incursions, had packed up and left the city in the dead of night.
“The people woke up and realized they had no protection” and they started scrambling to evacuate the city, said Benedictine Father Columba Stewart, director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, who has been helping Father Michaeel with his preservation work since 2009.
People had to flee on foot as the limited number of vehicles were being used to shuttle children, the ill and the elderly out of the city, he told Catholic News Service on 21 October from Collegeville.
Father Michaeel and his small team managed to pack two open-bed pickup trucks full of nondescript cardboard boxes holding 1,300 extremely fragile and valuable 14th to 19th century manuscripts.
Father Stewart said Father Michaeel was able to save “really important patriarchal manuscripts” from the Chaldean Patriarchate in Baghdad that recently had lent their collection to him for digitizing.
The wave of townspeople, including Father Michaeel, walked 40 miles in scorching August heat to Irbil, capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, carrying whatever they could, said Father Stewart, who remains in almost daily contact with the Iraqi priest.
Just hours before militants invaded, they were able to truck the manuscripts, leaving behind the laboratory and digitizing equipment that had been provided by funding through the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library.
Now, in addition to preserving the manuscripts, the priest and his community provide the lion’s share of care of the refugees’ suddenly fragile lives because so many lack any shelter and support, Father Stewart said.
Father Michaeel started collecting and preserving the nation’s cultural and religious heritage as recorded on the manuscripts in the 1980s.
He persuades manuscript owners, monasteries and churches to let him borrow their works to be cleaned and digitized; he then returns the restored originals and gives digitized copies to the owner and specialized archives.
The priest also built a collection of some 750 manuscripts from the Dominican community.
Father Stewart said the early European Dominicans in Iraq “were the first cultural anthropologists” in the area. “They described what they were seeing and left very interesting records,” he said, documenting “their work and the communities they ministered to.”
The Dominicans have been in Iraq for so long, “there’s a lot of depth” and history in the collection, Father Stewart said.
Luckily, Father Michaeel already had digitized the collections in the Mar Behnam Syriac Catholic Monastery, which is now behind the front lines of the militants and rumored to have been destroyed or burned down, Father Stewart said.
Father Michaeel and his staff of six to eight local Iraqis use a simple, inexpensive technique of photographing manuscript pages with a high-end 35mm camera and flash strobe lights for illumination. The digital images are stored on a hard drive, which is then sent to Collegeville.
Staff at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library then makes multiple backups, organizes the data, catalogues it and puts it online for scholars, Father Stewart said.
All training, funding and equipment for Father Michaeel’s work come through the donations, grants and foundation money pulled together by Father Stewart.
Father Stewart said Father Michaeel and his restoration team have made digital copies of 5,000 manuscripts with the library’s support. “It’s amazing what they’re doing on their own,” he said.
They will be getting new equipment as they settle in Irbil, he said, with now a second exodus under their belt. They were uprooted from Mosul in 2008, when the entire Dominican community left, many for Qaraqosh, in the wake of mounting kidnappings and threats against religious.
Father Stewart said as the Iraqi people, especially Christians, continue to be pushed out of their homes and their country and settle elsewhere, their history and heritage gradually will be lost.
“These are communities that no longer exist” as the people have scattered and their traditions fade away, he said.
When communities disappear, their heritage goes with them, he added, so these manuscripts and documents will most likely end up being the only memories that survive.
Even though “they are digital surrogates, it’s not the best, but they are better than nothing,” he said.
The museum and its funders will continue to support the preservation work because, Father Stewart said, “it’s a tiny investment for such a huge boon of conserving cultural memory.”
23 October 2014
In the video above, Iraqi refugees pouring into Jordan describe their struggles. To offer support during these trying times, visit our giving page. (video: Rome Reports)
ISIS threatens Iraq’s cultural heritrage (CNN) Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, the people of Mesopotamia mastered the first writing system, mathematics, astronomy, literature and law. Iraq’s past, however, is threatened by the nightmare of its present. ISIS is not only at war with the Iraqi state, it’s also at war with Iraq’s very identity — blowing up religious shrines, slaughtering and enslaving minorities such as the Yazidis, Christians and Turkmen, and executing its enemies...
Airstrikes in Syria have killed more than 500 people (The Telegraph) A month of US-led air strikes on Syria has now killed more than 500 jihadists, according to activists monitoring the conflict. As allied jets continue to bombard positions of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) around the besieged Kurdish town of Kobane, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said it had recorded a total of 553 dead since the air raids started in late September. Of those 32 were civilians, including women and children — mainly in towns further south such as Raqqa, the de facto headquarters of Isil, and around other targets such as oilfields. But 464 members of ISIS had been killed, many around Kobane. The number is thought to include sizeable numbers of foreign fighters, including a number of Britons...
Gaza rebuilding slowed by delays (News24) Several dozen tons of cement bags stored in a warehouse are one of the few tangible achievements so far of a $2.7bn plan to rebuild war-wrecked Gaza Strip. The programme was launched with high expectations at an international conference in Cairo on 12 October, but has run into obstacles, including wrangling between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah for control in Gaza and what officials say has been a trickle of promised aid. Hardest hit by delays are tens of thousands of Gazans living in communal shelters or the ruins of their homes since the summer war between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas destroyed or damaged some 100 000 homes...
As elections approach, Catholic leaders say they see a new Ukraine (CNS) The task of the Catholic Church is not only to teach people how to pray, but how to live authentically Christian lives, two leaders of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said. The church’s ministers also have an obligation to accompany, support and minister to their followers in the midst of strife and even danger, said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, and 81-year-old Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the retired head of the church...
Can Christians celebrate Diwali? (Deseret News) With a South Asian population of about three million, there are significant Diwali celebrations going on throughout the U.S. this week. Local Hindu and Jain temples and Sikh gurudwaras will host Diwali celebrations featuring hundreds of lights and lanterns, Indian curries and festive music played on harmoniums (keyboard), tablas (drum) and tambours (a stringed instrument). For many Asian Indians living in the diaspora, Diwali is not only religious, but steeped in socio-cultural significance and celebrations of South Asian identity. With this in mind Pramod Aghamkar, Executive Director of Satsang Ministries, started celebrating “Christian Diwalis” a few yeas ago in Dayton, Ohio. The Christian Diwali in Dayton is an effort on his part to immerse himself in native Asian-Indian culture and add the concepts and ideologies of the Christian worldview...
Dunkin Donuts in India: chickpea, saffron and chili (The Atlantic) The globalized world may not be flat, but it is round. And also frosted. And also, it must be said, delicious. In 2012, Dunkin’ Donuts — that quintessentially American purveyor of that quintessentially American thing, larded sugar-dough — launched in India. The 34 stores that are now spread across the country sell many products that will be familiar to American consumers: coffee, bagels, sandwiches, and, yep, doughnuts. They also sell items that were formulated specifically for Indian consumers: veggie burgers, lychee coolattas, and spicy sandwiches. The menu deviates so far from U.S. stores’ traditional breakfast-y fare that, in India, the chain brands itself as “Dunkin’ Donuts and More”...
22 October 2014
Tags: Syria India Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank
A Kurdish refugee child from the Syrian town of Kobani sits in front of a tent on 18 October in a camp on the Turkey-Syria border. To help refugees like these, visit this link.
(photo: CNS /Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)
22 October 2014
A Kurdish fighter undergoes training by British soldiers at a shooting range on 16 October in the northern Iraqi town of Erbil. (photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)
How ISIS is devastating Iraq’s schools (AP) Iraqi students went back to school on Wednesday amid tightened security as the academic year began a month late because thousands of people displaced by last summer’s onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had taken shelter in school buildings. In the areas of northern and western Iraq captured by the extremist group earlier this year — including the country’s second largest city Mosul — students are not required to attend classes, but will be able to watch lectures on state-run TV to prepare for final exams, Education Ministry spokeswoman Salama al-Hassan said. She told The Associated Press only a few schools are still occupied by displaced families and that authorities have set up trailers to be used as classrooms...
Holy See reaffirms support for two-state solution (Vatican Radio) The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, was the subject of the address given to the United Nations in New York by the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Archbishop Bernardito Auza...
Cold winter looms in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Ukraine is preparing for a cold winter after Kiev and Moscow failed to conclude a deal on resuming Russian gas deliveries to the country. Russian and Ukrainian officials say they will meet again next week in Brussels as they could not hammer out an agreement in the Belgian capital...
Wars begin in a jealous heart, pope says (CNS) All wars begin in the human heart — a heart that is jealous and bitter and tears apart communities through misunderstandings and marginalization, Pope Francis said. “How wonderful if we would remember more often who we are, what Jesus Christ did with us: We are his body,” members of the church filled with the Holy Spirit’s gift of new life in Christ and united in fellowship and love, he said at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on 22 October. The day also marked the feast day of St. John Paul II, who “invited everyone to open the doors to Christ,” said Pope Francis, who had canonized the Polish pope in April...
30 years later: looking back at the Ethiopian famine (BBC) It is 30 years since Ethiopia was in the grip of one of the worst famines to ever hit the country. Shocking pictures filmed by a BBC News team sparked a global effort to raise funds to help...
Christmas without commerce in Kerala (The Telegraph) Christmas in Kerala, jewel of the Malabar Coast, is different. It was my wife’s idea to experience Christmas in another culture where, we hoped, the celebrations would be more spiritual than commercial. Hence our festive-season passage to India. Kerala is an odd place. Nominally communist in its politics, it is one of the most religious places on Earth, with large Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities in which devotions are integral parts of life...
21 October 2014
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Ethiopia Palestine Kerala
People displaced by fighting in Eastern Ukraine wait to enter an abandoned building site in Kiev on 19 October. The lot has been turned into a center for the distribution of food,
clothing and other aid. (photo: CNS/Petro Didula, Ukrainian Catholic University)
The Ukrainian capital of Kiev enjoyed warmer weather in early October, but the temperatures dropped dramatically in the middle of the month, catching displaced people completely unprepared.
At an ad hoc aid distribution center on 19 October, people who had fled their homes in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine lined up early in the morning to be among the first allowed inside to go through piles of donated coats, scarves and clothing. Two young mothers, seeing a volunteer pass a box of disposable diapers through the donation window, pleaded for the box, certain that by the time they got inside the abandoned construction site the diapers would be gone. Standing quietly at the back of the line, Elena, a petite dark-haired, blue-eyed woman from Donetsk, said she and her 10-year-old daughter had come to the center the day before as well. The “Volunteer Hundred,” a group formed during the Maidan demonstrations earlier in the year, hands out food on Saturdays and clothing and household goods on Sundays. The young woman, who asked that her last name not be used, recounted her blessings: The Donetsk family whom she served as a nanny owns a small apartment in Kiev and is letting her and her daughter stay there. Her husband has gone back to the conflict zone because of widespread accounts of pro-Russian rebels confiscating or destroying abandoned homes and apartments.
To support the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as it ministers to its people, visit this page.
21 October 2014
In this image from May, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople attend an ecumenical celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The two are scheduled to meet again next month in Turkey. (photo: CNS /Paul Haring)
Vatican confirms papal visit to Turkey next month (Reuters) Pope Francis will travel to Turkey next month, the Vatican said on Tuesday, his first visit to the predominantly Muslim country which has become a refuge for Christians fleeing persecution by Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria and in Iraq. During his three-day visit, the pope will meet with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. He will also meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the Orthodox churches that make up the second-largest Christian church family after Roman Catholicism...
Iran president pledges support for Iraq (AP) Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised on Tuesday that Iran will stand by Iraq in the neighboring country’s fight against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. Rouhani told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Heidar al-Abadi that Iran “will remain on the path until the last day,” according to a report by the official IRNA news agency. Rouhani says Iran will continue to provide Baghdad with military advisers and weapons. He also criticized the U.S. for allegedly failing to sufficiently support Iraq against an escalating Sunni insurgency...
More details emerge from consistory discussion on Middle East (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis convened a Consistory of Cardinals on Monday morning in the Vatican. The Holy Father expanded the agenda of the meeting to include discussion of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. At a briefing following the morning session, the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, explained that the participants, among whom were counted the Patriarchs of the Oriental Catholic Churches present and based in the region, used the occasion to speak broadly of the challenges facing Christians throughout the entire Middle East, to express gratitude for the spiritual closeness of the Universal Church to their sorely tried communities, and to reiterate the need to foster dialogue, protect the rights of all people regardless of religious affiliation, and search for solutions that respect and further the common good...
Ukraine’s president condemns plans for elections (Vatican Radio) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says Russia has agreed to resume natural gas deliveries to his nation for the winter following concerns that a permanent halt in supplies over a pricing dispute could impact the rest of Europe. However tensions remain with Russia over eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have announced early elections...
Turkey to allow soldiers from Kurdistan to transit Turkey (Vatican Radio) Intense fighting has broken out yet again in the embattled town of Kobani in Syria, on the border with Turkey. The increase in intensity follows two days of relative calm after Kurdish forces defending the city pushed back Islamic State fighters with the help of US air support. The Turkish government has announced that it will allow Peshmerga fighters from neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan to transit Turkey and reinforce the defenders of Kobani...
Hamas claims it has resumed building tunnels in Gaza (Haaretz) Hamas has reportedly resumed digging tunnels throughout the Gaza Strip in preparation for its next battle with Israel. According to the Hamas-affiliated website Arsalanet, tunnel construction has resumed, since they provide the organization, and particularly its military wing, with strategic depth...
20 October 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine Vatican Turkey
Hindu holy men protest against alleged violence against Hindus in Jammu, India. Leaders of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said Hindus and Christians must work for a “culture of inclusion for a just and peaceful society.” (photo: CNS photo/Jaipal Singh, EPA)
The Vatican has released a message to Hindus for the Feast of Deepavali, which takes place later this week:
Dear Hindu Friends,
- The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue joyfully greets all of you on the festive occasion of Deepavali, celebrated on 23 October this year. May the Transcendent Light illumine your hearts, homes and communities, and may all your celebrations deepen the sense of belonging to one another in your families and neighbourhoods, and so further harmony and happiness, peace and prosperity.
- We wish to reflect with you this year on the theme “Fostering together a culture of ‘inclusion’”. In the face of increasing discrimination, violence and exclusion throughout the world, ‘nurturing a culture of inclusion’ can be rightly seen as one of the most genuine aspirations of people everywhere.
- It is true that globalization has opened many new frontiers and provided fresh opportunities to develop, among other things, better educational and healthcare facilities. It has ushered in a greater awareness of democracy and social justice in the world, and our planet has truly become a ‘global village’ due in large part to modern means of communication and transportation. It can also be said, however, that globalization has not achieved its primary objective of integrating local peoples into the global community. Rather, globalization has contributed significantly to many peoples losing their sociocultural, economic and political identities.
- The negative effects of globalization have also had an impact on religious communities throughout the world since they are intimately related to surrounding cultures. In fact, globalization has contributed to the fragmentation of society and to an increase in relativism and syncretism in religious matters, as well as bringing about a privatization of religion. Religious fundamentalism and ethnic, tribal and sectarian violence in different parts of the world today are largely manifestations of the discontent, uncertainty and insecurity among peoples, particularly the poor and marginalized who have been excluded from the benefits of globalization.
- The negative consequences of globalization, such as widespread materialism and consumerism, moreover, have made people more self-absorbed, power-hungry and indifferent to the rights, needs and sufferings of others. This, in the words of Pope Francis, has led to a “‘globalization of indifference’ which makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves” (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2014). Such indifference gives rise to a ‘culture of exclusion’ (cf. Pope Francis, Address to the Apostolic Movement of the Blind and the Little Mission for the Deaf and Mute, 29 March 2014) in which the poor, marginalized and vulnerable are denied their rights, as well as the opportunities and resources that are available to other members of society. They are treated as insignificant, dispensable, burdensome, unnecessary, to be used and even discarded like objects. In various ways, the exploitation of children and women, the neglect of the elderly, sick, differently-abled, migrants and refugees, and the persecution of minorities are sure indicators of this culture of exclusion.
- Nurturing a culture of inclusion thus becomes a common call and a shared responsibility, which must be urgently undertaken. It is a project involving those who care for the health and survival of the human family here on earth and which needs to be carried out amidst, and in spite of, the forces that perpetuate the culture of exclusion.
- As people grounded in our own respective religious traditions and with shared convictions, may we, Hindus and Christians, join together with followers of other religions and with people of good will to foster a culture of inclusion for a just and peaceful society.
We wish you all a Happy Deepavali!
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
20 October 2014
Retired Pope Benedict XVI greets Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, at the beatification Mass of Blessed Paul VI celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sunday 19 October. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope: Middle East without Christians is unthinkable (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis convened a Consistory of Cardinals on Monday morning in the Vatican. Originally scheduled in order to proceed with the causes of candidates for beatification, the Holy Father expanded the agenda of the meeting to include discussion of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. In remarks to the gathered Cardinals at the morning session of the gathering, the Holy Father focused on the need for constant prayer and effective advocacy in favor of peace, and for specific attention to the plight of Christians there...
Australia to deploy forces in Iraq to battle ISIS (BBC) Australia has reached an agreement with Iraq to allow 200 special forces personnel to train local troops to fight against Islamic State militants. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the military would now decide when to deploy the special forces group. The unit has been waiting in United Arab Emirates for a month, amid a legal row between the two sides. Australia is a major contributor to the US-led coalition against Islamic State, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq...
Amnesty International deplores abuses on both sides in Ukraine (BBC) Human rights group Amnesty International says there is evidence of atrocities committed by both warring sides in eastern Ukraine, but not on the scale reported by Russia. It said “strong evidence” implicated government forces in the killing of four men near rebel-held Donetsk...
Pope Francis beatifies Pope Paul VI (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday celebrated the Closing Mass for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. During the Mass in Saint Peter’s Square, the Holy Father beatified his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, whom he described as a “great Pope,” a “courageous Christian” and a “tireless apostle”...
Cardinal sends message of inclusion to Hindus (VIS) “Christians and Hindus: together to foster a culture of inclusion” is the theme of the message addressed to followers of Hinduism by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, on the occasion of Deepavali, the festival of lights, to be celebrated on 23 October this year...
17 October 2014
Tags: Syria India Iraq Ukraine Middle East
Laborers crowd into a bus in Ernakulam, India, after a long workday. The region is undergoing dramatic changes, as a result of urban sprawl. Learn more about this in Change Comes to ‘God’s Own Country’ from the July 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
17 October 2014
Civilians and a member of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad make their way through rubble and debris of destroyed buildings 7 October near Damascus.
(photo: CNS/Omar Sanadiki, Reuters)
Iraq imposes curfew (AP) The Iraqi government imposed a curfew in the western city of Ramadi on Friday over fears that the Islamic State group might try to advance on the strategically important city. The curfew began at midnight as part of an effort to limit movement in and out of the city as government forces prepared to eliminate pockets of resistance there, said Sabah Karhout, the chairman of the Anbar provincial council. Ramadi, the capital of the vast Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, is located 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad...
Report: ex-Iraqi pilots training Syrians (AP) Former Iraqi air force pilots are training extremists from the Islamic State group to fly three warplanes captured earlier from air bases belonging to the Syrian army, a Syrian activist group said Friday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the planes, seen flying over the Jarrah air base in the eastern countryside of Aleppo province this week, are believed to be of the MiG-21 and MiG-23 variety...
Leaflets announce threats against Ukrainian clergy (RT) Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has been receiving threats, including that of violence against the clergy, as radical nationalist movements try to take over churches and force them under the Kiev Patriarchate...
Pope sends message on World Food Day (VIS) World Food Day, held on 16 October, was instituted in 1979 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in order to raise public awareness and strengthen solidarity in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. To mark the occasion, the Holy Father sent a message to the director general of the FAO, Jose Graziano da Silva...
Pope to beatify Pope Paul VI on Sunday (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will officially declare Pope Paul VI Blessed on Sunday, 19 October during the closing Mass of the 3rd Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family...
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine