25 May 2018
The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana, center, meets Iraqi Christians who have opened a mobile cellphone shop in the Ninevah Plain following the defeat of ISIS. (photo: CNS/courtesy CAPNI)
In the aftermath of Iraq’s elections, Christians want to see a government formed that is free from the sectarianism that has torn apart the country, and they want Iran’s influence to diminish. Both issues have played a huge role in politics since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East, told Catholic News Service that although fiery Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr has gained the majority of parliament’s seats, Al Sadr’s uncompromising nationalism, stand against corruption and against foreign meddling seem to have struck a chord among ordinary Iraqis, who are fed up with what many call Baghdad’s broken political system.
“Iraq’s Shiite politicians, whose population forms the country’s majority, are of two streams: one pro-Iran and the other freer from Iranian influence, and Sadr is the leader of this latter group,” the priest explained.
“Al Sadr has called for a Cabinet of technocrats, not politicians. So far, he is more acceptable with the public because of his slogans. But can he realize forming a coalition government? In Iraq, it’s very complicated,” Father Youkhana said.
Father Youkhana runs the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq or CAPNI, for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dohuk, partnering with CNEWA, in addition to rebuilding homes and restoring livelihoods in several towns in the Ninevah Plain following its destruction by Islamic State since 2014.
Iraq’s historic Christians and other religious minorities, such as the Yezidis, are also dismayed that the government has so far failed to address and counter the problems that led to the rise of the Islamic State in the first place. And it has not contributed to rebuilding efforts in their communities.
“Now in Germany or the U.S., if a situation happens two or three times, they call for a debate in Congress. But in Iraq, it’s now four years from what happened, and there has been no national debate on what took place, how it happened, and how to prevent it from reocurring,” the priest said.
Yet, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael, now also a Cardinal-designate, has repeatedly called for a serious national dialogue to combat sectarianism in his homeland. So far, those calls seem to have gone largely unheeded.
Iraq’s military and police abandoned Christians and Yezidis in the face of the brutal attacks by Islamic State in 2014 that saw thousands killed, kidnapped, turned into sex slaves, maimed and displaced. The United Nations deemed the Islamic State the perpetrator of a genocide against the Yezidis of Iraq.
These events have left Iraq’s rich cultural mosaic of religious minorities feeling that they are second-class citizens. They sense that Iraq’s political leaders do not represent their interests or concerns.
Iraq’s Christian population, believed to number up to 1.4 million in the late 1990’s, now is estimated to be fewer than 500,000. They have been victims of sectarian violence, driven out of their ancestral homeland. Almost two-thirds of Iraqi Christians belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church.
They worry that Shiite militias that fought Islamic State militants are staking claim to parts of the historic Christian Ninevah Plain, where they never before resided.
“Bartella is becoming a Shiite town,” said Father Youkhana. “Now when you enter Bartella, you see the photos of [Iran’s ayatollahs] Khomeini and Khamenei. This demographic change is protected and facilitated by the militias,” he said. “This is our concern.”
“The failure of the government goes beyond the material,” said Father Youkhana, referring to the Iraqi government’s lack of funding or efforts to rebuild the ancestral areas destroyed by the Islamic State militants where Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities historically have lived.
Most of reconstruction of these areas have been undertaken by Western governments and various Christian agencies, such as CAPNI, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas.
“I would also partially blame the church for giving the impression that we can do it ourselves. But the reality is that the church single-handedly doesn’t have the resources for that,” the priest said.
“People have been hesitating to return [to their towns] unless the government provides safety guarantees, but so far it hasn’t, and I’m not sure if the new Cabinet will do so,” Father Youkhana said. “I call for a mini-Marshall Plan.”
CAPNI has rebuilt 28 schools and some 300 partially damaged houses in Qaraqosh, Bartella, Bashika and Bahzani. He said these partially damaged homes are the focus of rebuilding efforts by Christian aid groups and Western governments, such as Germany and Hungary, to reinstall electricity, doors, windows, etc. Health centers also are being rehabilitated.
Father Youkhana estimates that about 40 percent of such houses have been reconstructed. Others, which have been burned or completely destroyed, are not being rehabilitated by relief groups.
“Houses are being rehabilitated, but still people need to have livelihoods” if the towns are to be viable, he added.
So far, an estimated 25,000 people have returned to the area’s main town of Qaraqosh, which once housed 50,000 Christians.
Sura Jamiel Hanna, who heads CAPNI’s community development work, said the group provides loans and grants for income generating projects to revive some 20 livelihoods for Christians, Yezidis and Muslims in the towns such as beekeeping, sheep raising, carpentry and hairdressing.
CAPNI, in conjunction with Jesuit Worldwide Learning, also provides English language courses as well as 13 others such as management, math, and ethics for those who already possess proficient English skills.
Teaching of Kurdish to Arabic-speakers, music, sports and studies on Eastern Christianity are also offered.
“This is important for us as a matter of identity,” Father Youkhana said of the latter, adding that advocacy is now vital for Iraq’s minorities to realize their rights in both school curriculum and national and local legislation.
“This is the way to address the roots of the problem,” he said of Iraq’s troubling sectarianism. “We are fighting to keep the hope of our people alive.”
24 May 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians
An injured Palestinian lies on a bed at a hospital in Gaza City on 15 May. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
Already in a precarious state, Gaza’s health system faces a medical emergency, with more than 1,000 people injured in the recent Gaza border demonstrations that flared up since 30 March.
Hilary Dubose, country representative for Catholic Relief Services, said hospitals have already been suffering from lack of medicine, proper medical equipment and enough electricity to run them, but the sudden swelling of injured patients has pushed the hospitals over the edge.
“They were pushed to the breaking point even before the demonstration injuries,” said Dubose, who visited Gaza on 22 May. “The injuries have pushed them [past] that point now. It is important that humanitarian actors support the medical system.”
Humanitarian organizations such as CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency that receives some of its funds from the U.S. government, are hampered in their work, she said. The government has withheld funds not only to UNRWA, the U.N. organization tasked with providing assistance to Palestinians refugees and their descendants, but also has put a hold on all U.S. funding to Palestinians pending an “administrative review.”
“We can’t provide any humanitarian aid. It is making the situation worse. We don’t know what impact it will have,” Dubose said, noting that there are 155,000 people going without humanitarian assistance in Gaza because of the freeze.
CRS has had to make drastic cuts in its programs, she said, and has retained only a skeleton staff in its Gaza office. CRS programs in the West Bank are not affected because those do not receive U.S. government funding, she said.
People are at the end of their ropes, said Dubose. Gazans get only four hours of state-provided electricity per day; 95 percent of water in Gaza contaminated; unemployment in Gaza is 44 percent among the general population and 62 percent among young people.
“People can’t earn a living and support their families. Young people can’t get married, because here to get married they need a house and a means of supporting their bride,” she said. “People can’t accomplish their very simple dreams of getting married and having a family.”
During her visit with the Missionaries of Charity in Gaza, she heard the story of a young man who had been engaged for two years but had not yet been able to marry because he had no way to support a family or provide a house.
“His sister told us that he had gone to the demonstrations feeling prepared to die, and he did,” Dubose said. “Conditions are bad, with no hope for change. There is so much hardship and frustration.”
After 11 years of an international blockade people are getting desperate, she said. There is a lack of freedom of movement, and young people are unable to travel for job or educational opportunities, she said. If there were some signs of hope, of change, people would not feel so desperate, she added.
“There has really been marked shift in [the ability of people to hope]. People are really reaching levels of frustration I have not witnessed before,” said Dubose. “It is so claustrophobic. People are so stuck. There is a loss of hope.”
23 May 2018
Tags: Palestine Israel Health Care Israeli-Palestinian conflict
People fish in Topapoli, India, on 10 April. Bollywood actor Aamir Khan has inspired thousands of young Indians to join a water conservation movement using methods originally advocated by Swiss Jesuit Father Hermann Bacher. (photo: CNS/Stringer, EPA)
Thousands of young Indians have joined a water conservation movement led by popular Bollywood actor-producer Aamir Khan to fight drought using methods originally advocated by a Swiss-born Jesuit.
Ucanews.com reported more than 150,000 college students from drought-prone western Indian cities joined Khan in early May to dig trenches ahead of monsoon rains in more than 100 villages across 24 drought-prone districts of western Maharashtra state.
Saurabh Vishal, a student from Symbiosis International University in Pune, said he was proud to be helping.
“It was like doing something for the nation, for the village and our people,” said Vishal, who assisted digging of trenches in Savargaon.
“I felt honored to join villagers in their hard work to make their village drought-free,” the 25-year-old told ucanews.com.
Khan, 53, said his movement originally planned to enroll 100,000 university students to offer free physical labor to help remote drought-prone villages. It’s all a part of the actor’s nonprofit Paani [water] Foundation, which he established in 2016.
Khan said it takes about 45 days to prepare a drought-prone village for water conservation. The method requires digging trenches to allow rainwater to collect and seep into the earth, where it will help replenish over-exploited ground water sources.
The work was to be completed in May, ahead of the June-September monsoon season. The water percolation and collection will make the village self-sufficient in water for the following summer.
The Paani Foundation works with the Watershed Organization Trust as its “knowledge partner.” The trust provides both technical support and training to the foundation, Khan said.
The actor-producer said he appreciated the pioneering water conservation work carried out by Swiss Jesuit Father Hermann Bacher who founded Watershed Organization Trust with Crispino Lobo, a former Jesuit priest, in 1993.
The trust was established to help villagers fight drought in arid regions and is now active in eight Indian states.
The idea of seeking free physical labor for water conservation “was conceived and implemented by Father Bacher in [the] 1980’s, which inspired the other volunteer groups to follow suit,” Lobo said.
Jesuit Father Joe D’Souza, director at Jesuit-run Social Center at Ahmednagar, which helps empower marginalized farmers, said Father Bacher “foresaw water crisis 50 years ago when he launched a drilling team in 1966 to dig wells” in Ahmednagar district to collect water.
In Maharashtra, more than half of its 43,665 villages were declared drought-stricken in 2016, reported ucanews.com.
“Our dream is to make Maharashtra drought-free in five years,” Khan said.
“We found that wherever the water issue had been solved,” he said, “the solution lay in people’s collective efforts and labor.”
22 May 2018
Tags: India Water
A French pilgrim prays during a special service for peace in the Holy Land on 19 May at the Church of St. Stephen in Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Even in times of violence and despair, the power of joint prayer for peace can be felt, said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Local Palestinians, religious and foreign worshippers gathered at the Dominican Church of St. Stephen on 19 May, answering the archbishop’s call for a joint peace prayer in the face of 16 May violence along the Gaza-Israeli border, in which 62 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,000 were injured.
“We feel helpless for the killing of innocent people and the obstinate refusal to find alternative solutions,” said Archbishop Pizzaballa. “We must go through the strength of prayer to still believe we can change [the situation] and our land will one day be with peace and justice. We want fear and suspicion to give way to knowledge, where differences are opportunities.”
Though it may not be possible to change things as one would like in the wider world, the faithful must continue to try to change things in their own smaller communities, he said.
Their faith, he said, will give “courage to defend justice.”
Palestinian demonstrations along the border began 31 March, protesting the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and marking the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call Al Naqba, or catastrophe — the establishment of the State of Israel. Israel says it has been using live ammunition to prevent Palestinian protesters — whom they say are being incited by Hamas — from breaking through the Gaza border fence, raising fears that they would carry out terrorist attacks on neighboring Jewish villages.
Rosary Sister Virginia Habib, director of the Catechetical Center of the Latin Patriarchate, said during difficult circumstances such as these, she urges the young people “not to forgo hope.”
“We are surrounded by lots of violence in all the Middle East, not just here; we as Christians should not feel frustrated — our Christian faith tells us that the Lord will help us defeat death,” said Habib.
At Pentecost, the faithful are still in the spirit of the Resurrection, she said, and there is hope that evil will not have the final word in their daily life.
“We live our lives, and we continue to come here to pray and keep praying to offer all our mortifications so that peace will take place,” Sister Habib said. “Peace will not happen in our land until peace has taken place in our own heart.”
She said she tells young people that, as Christians, they are called upon to react to the injustices they see following the teachings of Jesus. She said they listen to her because she is living the same experiences as they are.
LaSallian Christian Brother Peter Iorlano said Christians must be witnesses to peace, especially those living and working among Jews and Muslims, to speak out about injustices but in a “level-headed” way.
“You don’t want to fuel the fire,” he said. “You have to be aware of your [surroundings] and how we can be seduced into being violent. We need to be really self-critical and conscientious and say: This is not just. In a way everyone is suffering but … people with power are the ones who can make a difference.”
Archbishop Pizzaballa told Catholic News Service the Christian community draws strength from supporting one another and not allowing the conflict to enter in their hearts. The strength of their daily life, taking care of their children and family, is what frees them to have hope and be positive, he said.
“Life is difficult, but we must always pray for peace,” said Faiyad Elias, 55, of Jerusalem.
Christy Bandak, 43, of Bethlehem, said the only hope people have is in their faith.
“Negotiations have failed, human means have failed. … Peace is a gift from God. That is the only way out,” said Bandak. “Christians, if they are really Christians, are peacemakers. When you hear [about] the bombings and the shootings, one can be afraid. It is a reason to pray to strengthen your faith. We can’t fall into the abyss of desperation.”
Souad Handal, 49, of Bethlehem, West Bank, said as Palestinian Christians, they experience the same injustices as Muslim Palestinians, said but though the situation is getting harder, they do not believe in violence.
“Palestinians want our freedom [but] we [Christians] believe in Jesus as a peacemaker,” Handal said. “We ask for the peace of the land. We can ask only God to help us.”
Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, who also attended the prayer service, said Christians must raise their voices in the call for justice and be ready to offer themselves as bridges of peace.
21 May 2018
Tags: Jerusalem Palestinians
A Franciscan Missionary of Mary listens to a lay person share his insights during one of their regular catechetical meetings in Amman. (photo: Nader Daoud)
In the current edition of ONE, writer Dale Gavlak offers an inspiring glimpse at how the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary are helping spread the faith in Jordan, particularly among refugees:
In myriad ways, large and small, through spiritual formation and fostering a sense of companionship, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary have provided displaced Iraqis — and many others still — with a measure of healing.
The Synod of Bishops’ Special Assembly for the Middle East, called by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, declared that “catechesis is meant to make the faith known and lived. Young people and adults, each individual and entire communities of believers, should be properly catechized.”
It further said that, “since young people live in places characterized by all kinds of conflicts, they are to be catechized, strengthened in their faith and enlightened by the commandment of love, so that they can make a positive contribution.”
“Catechesis in our life is not solely for teaching or knowing faith, but also a call to live what one knows,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director in Amman, of the sisters’ vital ministry.
“It aims to enrich one’s life to live as Christ did, promote moral formation, teach how to pray with Christ, and prepare Christians to live in a community and participate actively in the life and mission of the church,” he says.
“For me, the basis of my spirituality was formed in Iraq,” says Rami Wa’ed, a 25-year-old Syriac Catholic from Mosul and one of the youth group’s leaders.
“I have always loved being in the church: listening to the sermons, being part of the youth meetings, participating in many ways — first in Mosul, then in other places in Iraq and now here,” he says.
“No matter how much we partake of the spiritual experiences, we feel we need more,” he adds, his eyes alight with excitement. “Spiritual expertise is what we and others need to develop in our lives.”
Read more about Inspiring the Faithful in Jordan in the March 2018 edition of ONE. And check out the video below for another glimpse at the sisters’ ministry.
18 May 2018
Tags: Sisters Jordan Iraqi Refugees Amman
Palestinians pray at Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem's Old City on 18 May. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said that a competitive attitude between Christians and Muslims fosters the belief that religions are a source of tension and violence, not peace. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
A competitive attitude between Christians and Muslims fosters the belief that religions are a source of tension and violence, not peace, said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.
“It is important that we Christians and Muslims recall the religious and moral values that we share, while acknowledging our differences,” said the cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
“By recognizing what we hold in common and by showing respect for our legitimate differences, we can more firmly establish a solid foundation for peaceful relations, moving from competition and confrontation to an effective cooperation for the common good,” he said in a message to Muslims.
The annual message was for Ramadan, which began 16 May, and Eid ul Fitr, the feast marking the end of the monthlong fast, which will be on or around 15 June this year. The Vatican published the message 18 May.
Titled, “Christians and Muslims: From Competition to Collaboration,” the message expressed appreciation for “the great effort by the Muslims throughout the world to fast, pray and share the Almighty’s gifts with the poor.”
The importance of the month was an opportunity to share some thoughts about relations between Christians and Muslims and the need to move from competition to collaboration, the cardinal wrote.
“A spirit of competition has too often marked past relations between Christians and Muslims,” he said, adding that “the negative consequences of which are evident: jealousy, recriminations and tensions.”
“In some cases, these have led to violent confrontations, especially where religion has been instrumentalized, above all due to self-interest and political motives,” the message said.
This kind of “interreligious competition” hurts the image of religions and their followers, “and it fosters the view that religions are not sources of peace, but of tension and violence,” it said.
To prevent and overcome such negative consequences, the cardinal wrote, it is key for Christians and Muslims to recognize what values they share and show respect concerning legitimate differences.
Working together for the common good should include assisting those most in need, allowing both sides “to offer a credible witness to the Almighty’s love for the whole of humanity,” the message said.
“So that we may further peaceful and fraternal relations, let us work together and honor each another,” Cardinal Tauran wrote. “In this way we will give glory to the Almighty and promote harmony in society, which is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, multireligious and multicultural.”
17 May 2018
Tags: Interreligious Middle East Peace Process Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
Pope Francis greets new ambassadors to the Holy See during an audience in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on 17 May. Welcoming new ambassadors from seven countries, the pope said that migration “has an intrinsically ethical dimension.” (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
Diplomats have a duty to uphold human rights for all people, especially those fleeing their countries due to war, poverty and environmental challenges, Pope Francis told new ambassadors to the Vatican.
The issue of migration “has an intrinsically ethical dimension that transcends national borders and narrow conceptions of security and self-interest,” the pope said on 17 May.
“None of us can ignore our moral responsibility to challenge the ‘globalization of indifference’ that all too often looks the other way in the face of tragic situations of injustice calling for an immediate humanitarian response,” he said.
The pope’s comments came in a speech welcoming new ambassadors to the Vatican from Tanzania, Lesotho, Pakistan, Mongolia, Denmark, Ethiopia and Finland.
Speaking to the group of diplomats, the pope said the work of international diplomacy “is grounded in the shared conviction” of the unity and dignity of all men and women.
The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said, is a call for solidarity with “those suffering the scourge of poverty, disease and oppression.”
“Among the most pressing of the humanitarian issues facing the international community at present is the need to welcome, protect, promote and integrate all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands,” the pope said.
While acknowledging the “complexity and delicacy of the political and social issues involved,” Pope Francis called on the international community work toward crafting decisions and policies “marked above all by compassion foresight and courage.”
“For her part, the church, convinced of our responsibility for one another, promotes every effort to cooperate, without violence and without deceit, in building up the world in a spirit of genuine brotherhood and peace,” the pope said.
16 May 2018
Tags: Pope Francis Migrants
Pope Francis met with representatives of Dharmic religions — including Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Sikh — at the Vatican on Wednesday 16 May. He said religious leaders need to foster “a culture of encounter … at the service of life, human dignity and the care of creation.” (photo: Vatican Media)
15 May 2018
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Dialogue
Mourners carry the body of 8-month-old Palestinian Laila al Ghandour, who died after inhaling tear gas at the Israel-Gaza border during a 15 May protest against the U.S embassy move to Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
As the world witnesses “another outburst of hatred and violence, which is once again bleeding all over the Holy Land,” the head of Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarchate called for prayers for peace.
“We need to pray more for peace and our conversion and for all,” said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the patriarchate, or diocese.
The Associated Press reported that the same day the United States was inaugurating its embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli forces shot and killed 57 Palestinians and injured more than 2,700 during mass protests along the Gaza border 14 May. In addition, a baby died from tear gas inhalation, the Gaza Health Ministry said, bringing the death toll to 58.
“The lives of so many young people have once again been shut down and hundreds of families are mourning their loved ones, dead or wounded,” said the statement from Archbishop Pizzaballa. “As in a kind of vicious circle, we must condemn all forms of violence, any cynical use of human lives and disproportionate violence. Once again we are forced by circumstances to plead and cry out for justice and peace!”
He announced that 19 May, the eve of Pentecost, the church would hold a prayer vigil at the Church of St. Stephen at L’Ecole Biblique. He asked the entire diocese to dedicate a day of prayer and fasting for the peace of Jerusalem and that the liturgy on Pentecost be dedicated to prayer for peace.
“We must truly pray to the Spirit to change our hearts to better understand his will and to give us the strength to continue to work for justice and peace,” the archbishop said.
Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital and now feel that, with its embassy there, the U.S. cannot be a fair broker in the peace process with Israel.
Many Israelis see opening the embassy as the long-awaited official recognition of Jerusalem as their capital and the fulfillment of a promise made by numerous U.S. presidents to move the building from Tel Aviv.
14 May 2018
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Israel Holy Land Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The Rev. Ragheed Aziz Ganni is among four Iraqi clergymen who will be investigated for possible sainthood. They were martyred outside their church in Mosul in 2007. (photo: AsiaNews)
The Vatican has given its permission for the opening of the sainthood cause of an Iraqi priest and three deacons who were murdered by armed gunmen in Mosul.
The Congregation for Saints’ Causes gave the “nihil obstat” (“no objection”), permitting a diocesan bishop to open a local inquiry into a candidate’s sanctity, according to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, 14 May.
Fides confirmed that the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit would be handling the process because of the difficult conditions facing the church in Mosul.
Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, his cousin Deacon Basman Yousef Daud, and Deacons Wahid Hanna Isho and Gassan Isam Bidawed were killed on 3 June 2007, in front of the Holy Spirit Church in Mosul. Father Ganni had just finished celebrating Mass for the feast of Pentecost.
The three deacons had been accompanying Father Ganni because of increasing threats against him by militants. According to AsiaNews, armed gunman shot the four men and then booby-trapped their car with explosives to prevent others from safely recovering the bodies.
Father Ganni was born in Mosul in 1972. He graduated in engineering and studied theology from 1996 to 2003 at Rome’s Pontifical Irish College and the Pontifical University of Thomas Aquinas the “Angelicum,” where he received a license in ecumenical theology.
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Priests