25 July 2017
A boy carries his belongings in Mosul, Iraq, on 23 July. Some Iraqi Christians who are making their slow return to ancestral lands say it will take time to rebuild their lives and trust of those who betrayed them. (photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)
As some Iraqi Christians make a slow return to the region around Mosul following the defeat of the Islamic State group, many say it will take time to rebuild their lives and even longer to rebuild their trust of those who betrayed them.
“The war isn’t finished yet and neither is the Islamic State. There is no stability and there is still fighting in Mosul,” said Patriarch Louis Sako, head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, who visited Mosul on 20 July, touring churches left badly damaged during the city’s three-year occupation by the extremists.
“How can Christians return when there are homes destroyed and there are no services? But most important is safety. The return of Christians needs time,” Patriarch Sako warned, in remarks carried by Radio Free Europe.
Although Iraqi forces declared victory over Islamic State fighters in Mosul early in July, the patriarch said the region remains unstable, leaving Christians uncertain about their future in their historic homeland.
“Trust must be rebuilt because the Christians of this region have endured such abuse and violence, leaving deep wounds,” Patriarch Sako said.
Father Emanuel Youkhana, an Iraqi priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East, also warned that although Islamic State may be defeated militarily, “it doesn’t mean that its mentality, ideology or culture will be ended.”
Father Youkhana, who runs the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dahuk, spoke to Catholic News Service via Skype.
“The mentality of Islamic State in terms of accepting or recognizing others who are different is still there among people. Although we are happy for the liberation of Mosul, in reality, no Christian or Yezidi will go back to Mosul. I say this with pain,” he emphasized.
“Now is the time to think about alternative places to set up public services, health care, businesses and economics in the region,” perhaps to establish these in “one of the Ninevah Plains towns, such as Telaskov, to serve Christians, Yezidis and Muslims,” he said.
Many see Telaskov as a prime location for the reconstruction and rebuilding of lives to start in earnest, because Islamic State militants spent less than two weeks occupying it, so damage is minimal.
Telaskov translates as “Bishop’s Hill” and, before the Islamic State takeover, was a thriving town of 11,000.
“Now, more than 600 families have returned to Telaskov; those formally from the town and nearby Batnaya because it is not possible to return to Batnaya due to huge damage,” Father Youkhana said.
“Life is regained, markets are open, the church is functioning and hoping the schools will be open there as well by the beginning of the school year,” he said.
Christians have expressed concerns that the current military line dividing the once predominantly Christian Ninevah Plains region will harden to become a de facto political/administrative line, dividing their numbers. In the north are towns like Telaskov and Batnaya, and the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish peshmerga fighters hold sway. Towns south of the line — where Qaraqosh, Bartella, and Bashiqa are found — are now under the control of the Iraqi army and Shiite militias.
Father Youkhana’s CAPNI organization has been able to rehabilitate more than 180 houses and properties and 17 schools north of the military line, where there is greater stability.
He expressed concerns especially for towns south of the military line, like Qaraqosh, once the biggest Christian town of 50,000 before the Islamic State takeover in August 2014.
“The Shiites are now trying to monopolize it and other towns. We have the challenge about how to keep them. We believe there will be a Christian town of Qaraqosh. The question is: Who will rule it? Questions also arise about the physical connectivity of Qaraqosh to other Christian towns in the Ninevah Plains given the different political and military sides that control the divided area.
Father Youkhana also shared a fear expressed by Christians that the victims of Islamic State extremists such as themselves, the Yezidis and other religious minorities will again become victims in the reconstruction process.
“Our people are concerned that Arab Sunni Muslims who hosted and joined Islamic State and helped the extremists against us will be given priority in reconstruction of Mosul, perhaps from the Iraqi government and the Arab Gulf states,” he said. “The victims will be ignored and neglected.”
Christians are calling on the international community, along with the Iraqi government, to help them and other citizens from religious minority backgrounds. Often, Father Youkhana said, there are unfair expectations that all the help will come from Christians themselves or the Western churches.
“It is the government and the international community that should commit to support these people,” he said.
“To rehabilitate a house is not enough to return. Beyond the politics, the security, there is the livelihood of how families can survive. When 30 families are coming to a neighborhood in Qaraqosh, they need a grocery, a bakery, jobs,” he said.
“We fled in one night from the Islamic State; we may take one or two years to return home,” he added.
24 July 2017
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, celebrates Mass in Marj Al Haman, Jordan, 23 July. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
Mideast church leaders meeting in Jordan developed a two-pronged action plan to help Catholic families.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Catholic News Service the first step was to “change completely the preparation for the religious Catholic marriage.” Archbishop Pizzaballa explained that a revised teaching would entail “not just the immediate preparation to marriage that currently exists, but to start earlier the instruction with Catholic youth about what exactly marriage means.”
Secondly, he said the church sought to “create counseling offices in order to avoid couples immediately going to the courts” to deal with family problems that might arise.
In many Arab countries, where Islam and Islamic law predominate, there are no civil laws regarding marriage and divorce. That means that the state relies on religious bodies such as Catholic family law courts to certify marriages.
Often, civil divorce is impossible for Catholics in the Middle East, with many resorting to leaving the faith — becoming Orthodox or even Muslim — in order to find a tribunal that will allow them to escape their marriage.
With the Year of Mercy that began in late 2015, the church streamlined procedures for annulment cases, which have become a matter of urgency in many societies in the Middle East.
Archbishop Pizzaballa spoke to Catholic News Service 23 July after the conference’s closing Mass at Martyrs of Jordan Church. Delegations of clerics, judges and lawyers specializing in canon law from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Jordan participated in conference, which discussed a number of legal issues relating to marriage and the family. The proceedings were chaired by Father Emil Salayta, president of the church court in Jerusalem.
Archbishop Pizzaballa told CNS it is important to enhance the training for young people to “explain the meaning of a Catholic marriage and all the mutual commitments involved and to let them understand, with time in advance, what a Catholic marriage truly is.”
He said the main purpose of the conference was to help priests and lawyers who work in courts understand new regulations following Pope Francis’ September document bringing the basic legal instruments that govern the Latin- and Eastern-rite Catholic churches more closely into accord on several issues involving baptism and marriage.
“The decision has just been taken. Now we need to sit down with the pastoral offices, people, and other concerned offices to see what to do in order to build this,” Archbishop Pizzaballa said.
“We cannot expect in one year to have everything ready, but to build it. We are aware of the problem and we have to find not-easy solutions,” he said.
Archbishop Pizzaballa said today’s youth often have a “completely different mentality” about commitment, and preparations are needed to help them to make lasting ones.
“In the past, the youth used to ask: ‘Why do this?’ Now they ask ‘Why not?’” he said.
The papal nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin, stressed that “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation after two synods of bishops on the family, shows the importance of compassion that should be exercised by the church, especially on the subject of families.
He told conference participants that the Catholic courts should serve the law, demonstrate compassion and love through their judges and lawyers, and be witnesses to the greatness of marriage.
21 July 2017
The convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Qaraqosh sustained damage during the occupation. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on the challenges facing the people of Iraq:
The overwhelming need for those who are still considering returning home is the need for security at several levels. They seek assurances of a national government that guarantees them protection and their basic human and religious rights; they also seek local governance that will provide basic services; and they especially want freedom to maintain their faith and to worship as they please.
The insecurities are deep and the trust is lacking, so many have decided to wait and see before they make their final decision to return or to move on, whatever that might mean.
Despite the uncertainties and all the misery that accompanies those who are displaced, they find in the church a source of comfort and hope. Through Christ’s sacramental presence in the Eucharist and in many good works of charity and mercy, the church represents for them a beacon of the light of Christ and a reason to endure. Nothing is certain for the refugees, except the love of God for all, especially as Jesus has shared with them on the cross.
Read more and see more pictures as this link.
20 July 2017
Men carry the casket of Israeli policeman Hail Sethawi 14 July who was killed in an attack at the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. The heads of Jerusalem’s Christian churches have expressed “serious concern” over rising tensions and violence in the Old City.
(photo: CNS/Ancho Gosh, EPA)
The heads of Jerusalem’s Christian churches expressed “serious concern” over an escalation in tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City as hostilities remained high following the mid-July shooting deaths of two Israeli policemen and three gunmen on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The church leaders said they were worried that any change to the status quo of the site could “easily lead to serious and unpredictable consequences.”
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, were among the signatories of the 19 July statement.
Police believe the gunmen — three cousins, Arab citizens of Israel who were killed by Israel police — stashed their weapons inside the compound of the holy site for use in the 14 July attack.
“We express ... our grief for the loss of human life and strongly condemn any act of violence,” the Christian leaders said. “We are worried about any change to the historical situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque (Haram ash-Sharif) and its courtyard, and in the holy city of Jerusalem. ... We value the continued custody of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on Al-Aqsa mosque and the holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which guarantees the right for all Muslims to free access and worship to Al-Aqsa according to the prevailing status quo.”
Israel, which maintains control to access the site and has set up metal detectors at the entrance of the compound, repeatedly has said it has no intentions of changing the status quo in the area. The Jordanian Waqf Islamic trust administers the inside of the compound. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site but cannot pray there.
The compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is also considered a Jewish holy site as the historical location of the two Jewish biblical temples. Today, Jews pray at the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the platform, below the compound. Visitors to the Western Wall plaza must go through metal detectors to enter the site.
Jerusalem Muslim leaders have called on worshipers not to go through the metal detectors, and Muslims have been converging outside the Old City’s Lion’s Gate for prayers instead.
“We renew our call that the historical status quo governing these sites be fully respected, for the sake of peace and reconciliation to the whole community, and we pray for a just and lasting peace in the whole region and all its people,” the Jerusalem church leaders said.
On 14 July, the same day as the attack, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned the incident as a “desecration.” The bishops said they mourned for those killed and deplored “the heightened tensions that such an attack can span.” They noted that the “path to peace, for which both Israelis and Palestinians yearn, cannot be paved with violence.”
19 July 2017
Caritas Georgia Director Anahit Mkhoyan visited CNEWA’s New York office today, 19 July 2017, and led a discussion on the region she serves. (photo: Greg Kandra)
We were delighted to get a visit Wednesday from a longtime friend in Georgia, Anahit Mkhoyan.
Her name may ring a bell. She is director of Caritas Georgia, and wrote A Letter From Georgia in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE — a deeply personal and moving essay that was honored last month at the Catholic Press Awards in Quebec. We were pleased to present Anahit with her award certificate and hear her thoughts about the important work she is doing in Georgia.
“We touch the human,” she told our staff. “This is the precious part of Caritas.”
She spoke, in particular, of her gratitude for CNEWA’s support of the organization’s mother and child center — and the boundless generosity of CNEWA’s donors. The impact of CNEWA’s donors, she explained, is dramatic.
“Financial support becomes spiritual support for us,” she explained. “We can take a case and give the first support, human support, which people really need. We know if we don’t catch a woman and her child now, the kids may end up as street children, she may become a prostitute. It is a vicious cycle. People, when they are left out of one circle, then they drop out of other circles, and Caritas is the only place for them to be safe.”
And she emphasized: “I want you to feel like every spirit, every smile, every saved soul is behind every penny you are raising.”
Thank you, Anahit, for that message — and for being such a generous collaborator in CNEWA’s work!
18 July 2017
Tags: Georgia Caritas Caucasus
In this image from 2016, stray cows sit in the middle of the road in Bangalore, India. This past Sunday, the Catholic church in India criticized growing intolerance and mob violence targeting religious minorities over cow protection. (photo: CNS/Jagadeesh Nv, EPA)
The Catholic church in India criticized growing intolerance and mob violence targeting religious minorities over cow protection.
“The vast majority of the people of India of all communities (have) been shocked at the lynching in various states on the pretext of protecting cows,” said a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India after a 16 July meeting in New Delhi. About 40 religious leaders — Christians along with Baha’i, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh — attended the meeting.
The statement asked the government “to end (the) impunity ... at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today.”
Some Hindus worship the cow as a goddess and oppose slaughter of cows, with some states even running care centers for cows.
The bishops’ statement said lynchings over cows threatened “the constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.”
In a June report, The Times of India said that since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, vigilantes had killed at least 32 Muslims. It said that in most of these attacks, the premise had been allegations of cow slaughter, smuggling, eating or even possessing beef.
Mobs have killed meat and cattle traders in the name of protecting the sacred cow.
“We are going through difficult times. What we see on the TV (lynching) is frightening,” Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Catholic News Service 18 July.
“Hatred is being spread, and attempts are being made to divide the people. We want to create harmony by bringing people of all faiths together,” he said.
The statement urged religious leaders “to assert the inherent unity of the people (to) restore public confidence and remove the mutual growing suspicion.”
At the end of the assembly of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council 8 June, Archbishop Maria Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum criticized the federal government’s move to curb cattle trade in states like Kerala, where beef eating has no cultural inhibition, even among majority Hindus.
“We will never accept a dictum on what we should eat or do,” Archbishop Soosa Pakiam said.
17 July 2017
Fadia Shamieh, from the Palestinian Christian town of Beit Jala, helps youngsters prepare for their meal at the St. Rachel Day Care Center. This church institution provides care, play and education to the children of migrant workers. For more, read Found in Translation in the June 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
14 July 2017
Tags: Israel Jerusalem Catholic Migrants
David Safaryan displays one of his paintings from art class. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the June 2017 edition of ONE, Gayane Abrahamyan writes about the exceptional work being done by Caritas in Armenia, with CNEWA’s support, to bring light to the darkness, and help those most in need — especially the elderly and the young:
In one of the large, bright rooms, children stand behind easels, refining pencil sketches and proudly presenting their masterpieces.
The teacher, Vanush Safaryan, is a member of the Painters’ Union of Armenia and a former director of an art school in Artashat. He teaches children not only the craft of drawing and painting, but also the history and appreciation of art more generally.
“Art will save the country,” he says of a country that savors its rich art and architectural heritage. “Let them love the art. Twenty of the children have already chosen this path, so it is already a victory,” he adds.
“We have very bright children; they need to be given freedom and they will reveal themselves.”
The center’s smallest pupil is a 9-year-old named David. David has drawn a picture of construction site, with a worker seated inside a crane and a still-unfinished building nearby.
David lives with his parents and a younger sister in a rented apartment in poor condition. The center offers him an escape, and a sense of hope.
“After school we come here,” he says. “We have dinner, then we play games, draw, do our homework. It is very good.” He stops talking so he can focus on bringing his sketched construction site to life.
Read more in ‘This Is the Only Light’ in the June 2017 edition of ONE.
13 July 2017
Tags: Children Armenia Caritas
Dr. Deepa Sasidharan parks his motorcycle outside the offices of Calicut Medical College. Learn how growing up in a Catholic-run institution shaped his life in The Secret of Their Success in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
12 July 2017
Children pray together before their meal at the Little Prince Center in Artashat, Armenia. Learn more about this remarkable center and the work it is doing among the neediest people in the country in ‘This Is the Only Light’ from the June 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)