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September, 2018
Volume 44, Number 3
  
5 December 2018
Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service




Dominican Sister Luma Khudher of Iraq is pictured in an early October photo in Chester, England. At a 4 December ecumenical service at Westminster Abbey, Britain's Prince Charles spoke of how he was deeply moved by the testimony of Sister Luma, who fled ISIS but has returned to the Ninevah Plain to help re-establish the Christian presence. (photo: CNS/Simon Caldwell)

The heir to the British throne spoke of how he was deeply moved by the testimony of an Iraqi sister who fled Islamic State militants but has returned to the Ninevah Plain to help re-establish the Christian presence.

Charles, Prince of Wales, described the resilience of Sister Luma Khudher, a Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena, and other Iraqi refugees as a testament to the “extraordinary power of faith.”

Speaking in Westminster Abbey at a 4 December ecumenical service “to celebrate the contribution of Christians in the Middle East,” the prince recalled his “great joy” of meeting Sister Luma in England in October.

He told a congregation of more than 1,000 people how, in 2014, as extremists advanced on the Christian town of Qaraqosh, Sister Luma “got behind the wheel of a minibus crammed full of her fellow Christians and drove the long and dangerous road to safety.”

“Like the 100,000 other Christians who were forced from the Ninevah Plains by Daesh that year, they left behind the ruins of their homes and churches and the shattered remnants of their communities,” he said.

“The sister told me, movingly, of her return to Ninevah with her fellow sisters three years later, and of their despair at the utter destruction they found there,” he said. “But like so many others, they put their faith in God, and today the tide has turned -- nearly half of those displaced having gone back to rebuild their homes and their communities.”

Prince Charles said the return of Christians to Iraq represented “the most wonderful testament to the resilience of humanity, and to the extraordinary power of faith to resist even the most brutal efforts to extinguish it.”

He said that in meeting people like Sister Luma, he was repeatedly “deeply humbled and profoundly moved by the extraordinary grace and capacity for forgiveness that I have seen in those who have suffered so much.”

“It is an act of supreme courage, of a refusal to be defined by the sin against you,” he said, “of determination that love will triumph over hate.”

Christians who face persecution, endure and overcome “are an inspiration to the whole church, and to all people of goodwill.”

Sister Luma visited the United Kingdom in October as a guest of the Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity helping persecuted Christians.

She speaks English, having studied at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and earning a doctorate in biblical studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, so she could describe her ordeal in detail during a private meeting with the prince.

In his address, Prince Charles also expressed his hope that Christians and Muslims will again live together in peace, saying that throughout history they have “shown that it is possible to live side by side as neighbors and friends.”

“Indeed, I know that in Lebanon, Muslims join Christians at the Shrine of our Lady of Lebanon to honor her together,” Prince Charles said. “And I know that there are Muslim faith leaders who have spoken out in defense of Christian communities and of their contribution to the region.”

“Co-existence and understanding are not just possible, therefore; they are confirmed by hundreds of years of shared experience,” he said. “Extremism and division are by no means inevitable.”

The Catholic Church was represented at the service by Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, vice president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference; Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe; and by U.S. Archbishop Edward J. Adams, papal nuncio to Great Britain. Christian leaders from the Middle East and North Africa also were in attendance.

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said that “to live in a country or in a society where a government, or an armed group, or even a minority of people consider that you should be consigned to oblivion because of your faith in Christ is an experience that is without parallel.”

“Obedience for Christians outside the Middle East and outside areas of persecution is to ensure that governments, that households, that societies welcome the afflicted, pray for the suffering, stand with those in torment, rejoice in liberation,” he said.

Read more about the remarkable work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq in ONE magazine:

Hard Choices

Grace

Exodus



Tags: Iraq Dominican Sisters

5 July 2017
Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service




Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, poses for a photo in England on 23 June. His artwork depicting Syria’s six-year war is being shown in Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales. (CNS photo/Simon Caldwell)

A huge plume of grey smoke billows into a vivid blue sky as rooftops and buildings buckle into twisted iron and debris and then begin to fall. Beneath the smoke, human wreckage of the blast is visible: faces of victims contorted in pain and others dead, lying in pools of their own blood.

The painting is called “The Explosion” and is one of 11 works inspired by the Syrian war being shown in the Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales in an exhibition called “Portraits of Faith: Syria’s Christians Search for Peace.”

They are the creations of Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, who has depicted the six-year war in his native country in about two dozen paintings.

In a late-June interview with Catholic News Service in Lancaster, Georges, 70, a professional artist, recalled how in 2013 he personally witnessed the explosion that he would later capture in oil on canvas.

“This was particularly painful to paint,” he said.

“I saw the smoke rising and knew there was an explosion, and when I eventually went to the scene I was confronted with the scale of the damage, the destruction, and the sheer number of casualties, people who had perished of all different ages,” Georges said.

He added that to this day he does not know the source of the attack.

“I don’t care to know,” he said, adding: “This sort of thing shouldn’t happen anywhere.”

Homs was a city on the front line of the war and, as fighting engulfed residential areas, Georges and his family stopped sleeping in the bedrooms because they were exposed to gunfire and shell blast, choosing instead to spend their nights downstairs in the sitting rooms. Eventually, they fled into the countryside and spent a year there before finally leaving Syria for the safety of other countries.

Georges said he knew “many, many people” who died in Homs. They included Father Frans van der Lugt, 75, a Dutch Jesuit shot in the head in 2014 by assassins after he refused to abandon the poor and homeless of the city.

Georges painted a montage of 16 images in tribute to Father van der Lugt, and it now hangs in his home in Nuremberg, Germany, where he has lived since 2015. The painting forms part of the English exhibition arranged by Aid to the Church in Need, an international charity set up to help persecuted Christians.

Georges said he was “very shocked and saddened” by the priest’s murder.

“I knew him very well, we had a very close relationship,” he said.

“He has quite a legacy in Homs,” said Georges. “He treated all the people of Homs as equals. Even if they were Muslims, they were all his children. His monastery at Homs had Muslims and Christians in it all the time. He would give them refuge there and feed them.”

A painting by Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, now living in England, shows his country at peace before it descends into war. His artwork is being shown in Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales. (photo: CNS/Simon Caldwell)

The paintings in the exhibition were created between 2012 and 2014 and, together, they work like a narrative.

An early one, called the “Flower of Homs,” shows the Syrian city at peace before the violence, for instance. As the paintings progress to the horror of the war, the images darken, and dismembered bodies fill the canvas as people and their dwellings are destroyed.

“Forgiveness in Ma’aloula,” one of the later paintings in the exhibition, points beyond the war to the hope of Syrian Christians for final peace and reconciliation.

It depicts an enormous figure of Christ standing astride two hills representing the ancient Syrian village where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, was still spoken. The hills form faces staring at each other.

Georges said: “It (Ma’aloula) was invaded, the people were displaced, the churches were destroyed. To me, the people who did that do not represent Islam, because Muslims have lived there together with Christians for a very long time.”

The paintings in the exhibition were created between 2012 and 2014 and, together, they work like a narrative.

“I wish and hope that it will return to the diverse mosaic of peaceful coexistence that we have,” he said. “We have more than 20 sects of different confession in Syria. We have always lived in peace and coexistence.

“All we need is for us to be left to our own devices,” he added.