18 August 2014
Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard the papal flight from Seoul, South Korea, to Rome on 18 August. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis once again took questions from reporters on the airplane en route back to Rome, and he made some news:
Pope Francis said the use of force can be justified to stop “unjust aggressors” such as Islamic State militants in northeastern Iraq, but he declined to endorse U.S. military airstrikes against the militants and said such humanitarian interventions should not be decided on by any single country.
The pope also said he was willing to travel to the war zone if necessary to stop the violence.
Pope Francis made his remarks 18 Aug. during an hourlong inflight news conference on his way back from South Korea.
In response to other questions, the pope acknowledged a need to lighten his work schedule for the sake of his health; said he might make a combined visit to the U.S. and Mexico in 2015; and explained why the Vatican is still studying whether the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero should be beatified as a martyr.
The pope’s words on Iraq came a week after his representative in Baghdad welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision to use military force against Islamic State positions.
Asked about the airstrikes 11 Aug. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio: “This is something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped.”
That statement surprised many because, since the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the Vatican has stressed that military interventions for humanitarian purposes should have the support of the international community.
When a reporter on the plane asked Pope Francis whether he approved of the airstrikes, he replied:
“In these cases where there is unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ’stop’; I don’t say bomb, make war — stop him. The means by which he may be stopped should be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit, but we nevertheless need to remember how many times, using this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor, the powerful nations have dominated other peoples, made a real war of conquest. A single nation cannot judge how to stop this, how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there arose the idea of the United Nations. That is where we should discuss: ‘Is there an unjust aggressor? It seems there is. How do we stop him?’ But only that, nothing more.”
The pope said his recent appeal to the U.N. to “take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway in Iraq” was one of a series of measures he had considered with Vatican officials, including his decision to send Cardinal Fernando Filoni to the region to meet with church and government officials and refugees.
“In the end we said, should it be necessary, when we get back from Korea I can go there,” he said. “At this moment it is not the best thing to do, but I am willing.”
He had much more to say about war, his health, and his upcoming travel schedule. Read it all.
18 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis War
In this image from July, Christians fleeing the violence in Mosul sleep inside Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif, Iraq. For some, that was the beginning of a long and dangerous journey. Last week, the first Christian refugees began arriving in Jordan. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Christian refugees are beginning to pour into Jordan, describing the world they left behind:
The first Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic State militants reached the safety of Jordan, helped by King Abdullah II and Catholic aid groups.
“Our money has run out,” said an Iraqi Catholic woman, Um Muwataz, as tears streamed down her face.
“The Islamic State put a big red Arabic letter ’N’ on our home, claiming the house as their property. We had no other choice but to flee, first to the northern Kurdish city of Irbil and now here to Jordan. We’ve spent our last penny,” the former teacher said, her body tensing.
“N” is the first letter of an Arabic word for Christian, “Nasrani” or Nazarene.
“Never in my life could I imagine such a thing happening to us, Christians,” she told Catholic News Service.
Um Muwataz and her family of four managed to fly to Amman from Irbil with about 100 Iraqi Christians from Mosul, Qaraqosh, and surrounding Christian villages, beginning 13 August.
But she said she was concerned for her married daughter and the rest of the family stuck in Irbil, because the young woman’s 6-month-old twins do not have Iraqi passports. Nor they can return to Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, to apply for these travel documents.
Ra’ed Bahou, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, told CNS that about 1,000 Iraqi Christians from the Mosul area were expected to enter Jordan under special arrangements by King Abdullah.
Caritas, the Catholic Church’s humanitarian nongovernmental aid agency, is among the organizations assisting the refugees at a Catholic facility outside Amman by providing food, water and lodging.
They are the latest wave of Iraqi refugees seeking shelter in Jordan, which is still hosting 300,000 Iraqis from the 2003 U.S.-led war. At the height of the conflict, Jordan hosted some 1.5 million Iraqis.
“Since 2003, we have been suffering,” said a refugee who identified himself as Safwan, a 43-year-old engineer. “But this is the biggest suffering yet to befall us. Never in the past 1,700 years has there been no Christian presence at all in Mosul.”
Safwan said he, his 8-months-pregnant wife and two young sons escaped Mosul twice: first, when the area came under Islamic State bombardment in June; in early July they snuck out of the city.
“We left but heard that those who fled after us unfortunately had their cars, gold, money, even baby’s pampers and milk stolen from them by the Islamic State militants,” he said.
Safwan said it was impossible to remain in Mosul with the militants imposing Islamic law, or Shariah, demanding Christians either convert to Islam, pay a “protection” tax or leave.
He said he feared his wife could be taken from him as rumors were rife of the extremists kidnapping and selling some women, both Christians and Yezidis, another religious minority fleeing for their lives.
To support Iraqi Christians under seige, please visit this page.
14 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees
Pope Francis reacts as he learns that Simone Camilli, a video journalist for The Associated Press, was killed in Gaza, as he greets media aboard the papal flight from Rome to Seoul, South Korea, on 13 August. Speaking at right is Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The world follows the Pope wherever he goes, and news of one stricken part of the world reached him as he flew to South Korea:
Greeting reporters accompanying him to Korea 13 August, Pope Francis mourned an Italian video journalist killed earlier the same day in the Gaza Strip and urged journalists to serve as messengers of peace.
The pope listened with a bowed head and grave expression as Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, recounted the fate of Simone Camilli, who worked for The Associated Press.
Camilli and a freelance Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were killed along with three Palestinian policemen who were attempting to defuse unexploded ordnance left over from Israeli-Hamas fighting. Four other people, including an AP photographer, were badly injured.
Pope Francis then led the journalists in 30 seconds of silent prayer for Camilli.
“These are the consequences of war, that’s the way it is,” he said afterward.
“May your words always help unite us with the world,” the pope told about 70 journalists who accompanied him on the flight to South Korea. “I implore you, always send this message of peace, try to give a word of peace.”
13 August 2014
Children prepare for First Communion in Qaramlesh, Iraq, on 1 August. Islamist terrorists drove these Christian families from their homes, so their 8 August ceremony never happened. Read more about the latest from Iraq. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
12 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Children Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
Yazidi demonstrators protest Islamic State militants in Hanover, Germany, on 12 August. (photo: CNS/Julian Stratenschulte, EPA)
The Vatican released a strong statement on the crisis in Iraq today:
The Vatican called on Muslim leaders to condemn the “barbarity” and “unspeakable criminal acts” of Islamic State militants in Iraq, saying a failure to do so would jeopardize the future of interreligious dialogue.
“The plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic communities that are numeric minorities in Iraq demands a clear and courageous stance on the part of religious leaders, especially Muslims, those engaged in interfaith dialogue and everyone of goodwill,” said a statement from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue released by the Vatican Aug. 12.
“All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and must denounce the invocation of religion to justify them,” the statement said. “Otherwise, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility would remain to the interreligious dialogue patiently pursued in recent years?”
The document noted that the “majority of Muslim religious and political institutions” have opposed the Islamic State’s avowed mission of restoring a caliphate, a sovereign Muslim state under Islamic law, to succeed the Ottoman Caliphate abolished after the founding of modern Turkey in 1923.
The Vatican listed some of the “shameful practices” recently committed by the “jihadists” of the Islamic State, which the U.S. government has classified as a terrorist group. Among the practices cited:
“The execrable practice of beheading, crucifixion and hanging of corpses in public places.”
“The choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of tribute or exodus.”
“The abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as war booty.”
“The imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation,” or female genital mutilation.
“No cause can justify such barbarity and certainly not a religion,” the document said.
You can read the full statement here.
11 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Vatican War Iraqi Refugees Yazidi
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
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)
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
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.
7 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
A Lebanese army soldier carries a young refugee fleeing the violence in Syria in the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, on 6 August. (photo: CNS/Hassan Abdallah, Reuters)
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War