10 August 2016
In this image from December 2015, a refugee prays Christmas day at a camp in Calais, France. Iraqi Christians appear divided about whether they will be able to return home after ISIS militants are flushed out of the battle-scarred Ninevah Plains region. (photo: CNS/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)
Iraqi Christians appear divided about whether they will be able to return home after Islamic State militants are flushed out of the battle-scarred Ninevah Plains region. They say their safety must be guaranteed at all costs.
“If the liberation of the Ninevah Plains region is successful, infrastructure is rebuilt and there is security, I would want to be among the first to return,” said Fadi Yousif, who teaches displaced children in the Ashti II camp for displaced Christians in Ain Kawa, near Irbil. “It’s my home. I love that place. But what is absolutely essential is that we have real security there.”
Housed in an unfinished concrete building, Yousif and other displaced people live in containers that take the place of homes lost to the Islamic State. He said his home region would be a different place from what he remembers due to the dispersal of friends and family abroad because of the long wait to rid the area of the Islamist extremists.
“About 60 percent of my friends are now living in exile, whether in neighboring countries or Europe. My mother, father and two sisters are now in Lebanon. I have a brother in Jordan. My uncle is in the United States. Only another brother and I are still in Iraq,” he said. It was unclear whether Yousif’s family would regather in Iraq following the liberation.
Um Fadi, a 37-year-old Chaldean Catholic mother, also is concerned about safety. She and her family of six live in Ashti II.
“I swear, I never saw something like this except in a horror film. But I actually witnessed people being killed and saw dead bodies with my own eyes,” she said of her escape from the Islamic State’s assault on her village of Qaraqosh two years ago.
“Of course, we are frightened to return. What are we going back to? The houses and churches have been bombed. My children, particularly my youngest son, is very frightened about the idea of returning there,” Um Fadi told Catholic News Service.
Other Christians like, Saif Haney, told CNS they will never go back home because they heard that Islamic State militants used their family houses as execution dens.
Some Iraqi Christian political leaders are calling for the inclusion of armed Christian militias to participate in the liberation of Mosul and the Ninevah Plains, their ancestral homeland, alongside U.S.-led coalition forces, Iraqi troops and Kurdish fighters.
Although that may not happen, Christian political leaders such as Yousif Yaqoob Matti want to see Christian defense forces built up to protect Mosul and the Ninevah Plains after their liberation. They said this is necessary because although many Christians would prefer to have an international force, such as U.N. peacekeepers in the area, this is unlikely to happen.
“The battle for the Ninevah Plains against Islamic State will be complex, but the military forces involved must perform as one, unified entity,” Matti told CNS.
“After the liberation, demining efforts will take place and electricity, water and other necessary infrastructure will need to be rebuilt. It is hoped that after four months, people may be able to return safely.”
Bahman Maalizadeh of the North Carolina-based Norooz Foundation has traveled to Mosul’s frontline villages ahead of the offensive. His and other nongovernmental organizations have provided badly needed food and medicine to displaced Christians and Yezidis.
“There is a small Christian force left to protect so many lands,” Maalizadeh told CNS. “It is so important for the international community to help these forces to not only protect the land, which they have, but once the area is liberated, to provide security to ensure that Christians can return home.”
A man who identified himself only as John, a Syriac Catholic from Hamdaniyya, is Um Fadi’s neighbor in Ashti II camp. Although he and his family are desperate to forget the past and to leave Iraq, that might not be possible.
“We can’t leave Iraq, but we want to. Although Kurdistan has been kind to us, there is really no work here, so we have run out of money,” he told CNS. “We have to have a future for ourselves and our kids, so we need to go somewhere else. We don’t see that happening in Iraq because so many wars and conflicts have erupted here.”
He and his family have already been displaced already twice: They had to flee the capital, Baghdad, for safety to Hamdaniyya and then escape to Ain Kawa following the Islamic State takeover of their area.
“Frankly, money isn’t the objective. The only thing we want in life is what everybody else wants,” he told CNS. “It’s to be able to live in your own home without any concern about what can happen to your kids. I want my children to grow up that way, feeling secure.”
9 August 2016
Migrants gather to celebrate Mass in Rehovot, Israel. The challenges many migrants in Israel face are significant. Check out the Summer 2016 edition of ONE to learn more about people Surviving Without a Country in the Promised Land. (photo: CNEWA)
8 August 2016
The new Refugee Olympic Team arrives for the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro on 5 August. In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world. (photo: CNS/David Gray, Reuters)
In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world.
Naming each of the team’s athletes from South Sudan, Syria, Congo and Ethiopia, Pope Francis said he had read some of the interviews with team members “so that I could get closer to your lives and your aspirations.”
“I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio — that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity,” he said in the message, signed in late July.
The 2016 Summer Games marked the first time a refugee team officially participated in the Olympics. Team members marched under the Olympic flag and, in the event a team member wins a medal, the Olympic anthem was to be played instead of the national anthem of the athlete’s home country.
Pope Francis expressed his hope that through the team “humanity would understand that peace is possible, that with peace everything can gained, but with war all can be lost.”
“Your experience serves as testimony and benefits us all,” the pope told team members.
Yusra Mardini, 18, was the first member of the team to compete in Rio. The swimmer is ranked 41st among women swimmers competing in the 100-meter butterfly; Mardini finished first in her initial heat on 6 August.
Like tens of thousands of Syrians, Mardini fled her war-torn country through Lebanon and Turkey. She found a space on a rubber dingy to make her way to Lesbos, Greece, but the motor stalled. She, her sister and another woman — the only people on the boat who could swim — pushed the boat to shore.
From Greece, Mardini traveled on to Germany, where she was given official refugee status in March and continued her training as a competitive swimmer.
Five of the athletes — including Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 23, the team’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony — are South Sudanese refugees who were living in the huge Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
The national Olympic committees of the refugees’ host countries, the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Olympic Committee chose the team members. The IOC provided the athletes uniforms and is covering their costs and those of the team’s coaches and staff.
5 August 2016
In this image from May, children at the Saint Gabriel Primary Government School in Ethiopia greet visitors. They are among thousands of young people who are contending with a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa. Learn how you can help the hungry hold on to life by
visiting this page. (photo: John E. Kozar)
4 August 2016
Young sisters are seen joking and laughing as they walk near their convent in Bharanaganm, Kottayam, in the Indian state of Kerala. India is facing new challenges in trying to attract young people to religious life. Discover why some feel they are On a Mission from God in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)
3 August 2016
Tags: India Sisters Kerala Indian Christians Vocations (religious)
In this image from 2003, an Eritrean Orthodox bishop displays two Coptic-style crosses. The hand cross is used for blessings. To discover more about the Orthodox Church in Eritrea, read Ancient Church in a Young Nation from the November-December 2003 edition of the magazine.
(photo: Chris Hellier)
2 August 2016
Displaced Iraqis gather 16 July at a refugee camp near Mosul, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)
Security tops the list of what Christians of Iraq and Syria want before they’ll consider returning to areas they fled when the Islamic State and other extremist groups took over.
They also want help with displacement difficulties, justice for past offenses, self-governance, ethnic militias, and the right to ultimately choose to move permanently to Europe, the United States or beyond, said representatives of Christians and other minority ethnic groups. The minority representatives spoke at an all-day conference at Jesuit-run Georgetown University 28 June. The following day, the same group met at the U.S. State Department with representatives of more than 20 countries involved in supporting a post-Islamic State scenario in Iraq and Syria.
“The important thing ... is the security and the confidence that a family, a father, a wife, a child a daughter ... can be safe in their own home,” said Bishop Awa Royel of the Assyrian Church of the East.
Bishop Royel and other members of indigenous Iraqi Christian groups told Catholic News Service at the Georgetown conference that up to 70 percent of Iraq's Christians had fled their native country since U.S.-led forces toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, and that, due to the Islamic State takeover of northern Iraq in 2014, close to 150,000 Christians from those areas had either escaped to nearby Kurdish-controlled areas or to neighboring nations.
“Security is important, long-term security, against ISIS and against any other group that could come up in the future,” Bishop Royel said, suggesting one way to achieve that was through international protection and a “constant line of dialogue” among northern Iraq’s various ethnic groups, to prevent the weakening of society, which the bishop said had facilitated the Islamic State takeover.
“When there are suspicions and when there are mistrusts, you have each religion going into their own little corner. Leaders of various religions present in Iraq ... have to meet regularly, not to discus theology, but just to share what the communities are going through,” he said.
Other Iraqi Christian participants at the conference concurred with Bishop Royel that their communities would be looking for increased security in the regions they had inhabited before fleeing Islamic State, which claims to have established a caliphate across parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Christians insisted this could only be achieved it they were given full administrative control of historically Christian cities and towns and if local Christian militias were reinforced in those areas.
Both “empowering (Christians) to take administrative control of their areas” and “training Christian youth to protect their areas” must be achieved for displaced Christians to feel safe enough to return home after Islamic State has been defeated, said Syriac Catholic Father Behnam Benoka of Iraq.
Father Benoka pointed out that since the time of Saddam, there were efforts on the part of the Iraqi state to populate historically Christian areas with other religious groups, and he called for demographic justice and for such historically Christian lands to be restored.
In March 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives and Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians, Yezidis, Shiite Muslims, and other religious and ethnic minority groups in Syria and Iraq.
“Unfortunately, months later, ISIS and other violent extremist groups continue to target and terrorize their victims through rape, enslavement and murder, while religious and cultural sites are systematically looted and destroyed,” read a statement by Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project, which hosted the conference, “Threats to Religious and Ethnic Minorities Under the Islamic State.”
Bishop Royel, Father Benoka and the other Christian representatives to the conference's different panels told CNS that, in addition to their concerns regarding safety of the future, they were worried about the immediate welfare of tens of thousands of Christians now living in camps, containers, and in other desperate situations, in areas where they had fled inside Iraq and Syria, or in neighboring countries.
They called on Western governments to speed up the asylum process for minorities who wanted to leave until peace was restored, or for good.
“As a minority ... you pay the biggest price,” said panelist Bassam Ishak, a member of Syria’s Christian minority who estimated that well over a million of his co-religionists had been displaced due to the violence of ongoing civil war, Islamic State, and other extremist groups back home.
“We need a political resolution ... that takes into account the Syrian diversity and seeks to build a pluralistic Syria. Then (Christians) may have a future, and we may even have some ... who return,” Ishak said.
Concerns of the conference’s Christian panelists’ mirrored for the most part those of the region’s various other minority groups.
Conference panelist Rajab Assi Kareem, speaking on behalf of Iraq’s tiny Kakai minority, said Islamic State had destroyed the group’s places of worship and that it was up to “the United Nations to ensure the peace” needed to prevent it or similar extremist groups from ever coming to power again.
Murad Ismael, one of the conference’s several panelists representing Iraq’s Yezidi minority, called on the international community to “put some parameters for the minorities to maintain their homeland and to ensure a future.”
Yezidis wanted international protection and restitution, especially in light of the recent raping, kidnapping and massacres the community had endured at the hands of Islamic State in Iraq, said Ismael.
“Otherwise,” he said, “the best thing will be to open doors ... and to permit mass exodus.”
1 August 2016
World Youth Day pilgrims hold candles during a 30 July prayer vigil with Pope Francis at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. Palestinians and Israeli pilgrims shared the same sector of the Field of Mercy and had a chance to meet and talk. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
At least for a few minutes at World Youth Day, the physical barriers between Palestinian and Israeli communities were nonexistent.
A group of Palestinian Catholics and a contingent of Hebrew-speaking Catholics from Israel found themselves in the same sector at the Field of Mercy for the closing programs of World Youth Day.
The two groups talked for a short time after arriving on the open fields the afternoon of 30 July, members of both delegations said. The time together was cordial and offered a chance to meet people of the same faith living in neighboring communities who might not meet under ordinary circumstances.
“We can’t really meet each other in our country,” said Danielle Maman, 22, of Jerusalem, one of the Israeli Catholics. “We can’t talk face-to-face because there are walls and checkpoints.”
“We’re all Christians. We always try for peace,” said Asil Zarek, 17, of Beer Sheva, Israel.
Pilgrims in both groups said they were not sure how to overcome the political barriers that exist across the two communities, but they thought their faith could be a bridge.
“We should all, as Palestinians and Christians, be one together,” said Michael Abusada, 26, a Palestinian living in Jerusalem. “All of us can bring home peace, love and the mercy of Jesus.”
The theme of mercy ran throughout the six days of World Youth Day. Many participants, some of whom arrived as early as 10 a.m. for the evening vigil, reflected on their experiences in Poland, the new friends they made and the messages of mercy the emanated throughout liturgies and catechetical sessions of the festivities.
French-speaking pilgrims from Quebec said that on their trek from Krakow, more than four miles away, they thought about the people they met and how similar they all were.
“It’s all about meeting people,” said Benjamin LeCroix, a member of Assumption Parish in Saint-Georges, Quebec. “We all chose to be here. It’s not like a school trip where some people don’t want to be part of it. Everyone here wants to be a part of this great heaven.”
Seeing so many people sharing the Catholic faith impressed Andria Saenz, 20, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Laredo, Texas. She said being at World Youth Day also was about being on a pilgrimage to better understand her faith and the people of the world.
“I’ve never been out of Laredo, and I wanted to see what people were talking about,” she told Catholic News Service. “Poland is not the first place I thought of seeing. But the people and land are beautiful. I have a different perspective.”
It also was the first significant journey for Jacqueline Ndecky, 32, of Guinea-Bissau, and the 14 others in her group. She said seeing so many people focused on the life of Christ was gratifying.
“The message is there is no limit to Jesus,” she said. “He is the same to people in Asia, Africa, everywhere.”
A small group from the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, was resting while waiting for the pope to arrive. Efrain Torres, one of 38 in the contingent, had been at previous World Youth Day celebrations, but never as a leader of a group, like this year. He said he was eager to hear what Pope Francis had to say.
“This is the presence and experience of the living Christ,” he said. “We’re waiting for the vicar of Christ, who invites us to go out to the marginalized. We want to know what God wants to tell us through our vicar and take it home in our hearts to share.”
Sister Catherine Holum, 36, an American Franciscan Sister of the Renewal ministering in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, was smiling as she talked with four other sisters from her order and three pilgrims from the archdiocese.
Sister Catherine described the week as a joy to experience. She also had been involved as an emcee at a catechetical session earlier in the week, keeping 150 young people engaged in the conversation through prayer, song and enthusiasm.
“This is where you meet the word, share the Lord, have a great encounter and make new friends. It’s a very beautiful thing,” she said.
“It’s not about ourselves, but what we do with our brothers and sisters. We’re a tool of our brother Jesus. Having heard about the mercy of God this week, we are called to be merciful ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing.”
29 July 2016
Children greet CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, on his pastoral visit to an Ain Kawa camp for displaced Iraqis. See more memorable images from his trip in the Summer 2016
edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
28 July 2016
The Rev. Daniel Lenz leads a prayer for the newly inaugurated Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community in Omaha, Nebraska on 26 June. Father Lenz is biritual, meaning he was ordained for the Latin rite but is permitted to celebrate Byzantine liturgies as well.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community)
The Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community in Nebraska seems off to a good start with two baptisms since its official inauguration as an outreach of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma this past spring.
The new Eastern Catholic community is the result of a grass-roots effort begun about 18 months ago by Catholic layman Matthew Willkom.
Within this short time, the Omaha community went from having monthly prayer services on a weeknight to finding a biritual priest who currently celebrates Sunday Divine Liturgy with them once monthly. About 60 people are associated with the community, though about 20 people attend regularly.
The 36-year-old radio producer moved to Omaha with his wife and three children four years ago from Minneapolis, where he first encountered the Byzantine Catholic Church. Though a Latin Catholic, Willkom became a regular at the Byzantine parish there and, after living in Omaha for more than two years without a Byzantine liturgy, decided to start a Byzantine community.
“I was missing (the Byzantine liturgy) so much, I felt like something should be done,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
For a year, the community prayed on a weeknight at a Ukrainian parish on Omaha’s east side. The pastor agreed they could pray in English with Ruthenian chant. Now-retired Bishop John M. Kudrick of Parma had lent the fledgling group support in the form of liturgical books, as well as guidance from Father Bryan Eyman, the eparchy’s director of missions and outreach.
However, in January, the community found a new location — the monastery of the Poor Clare sisters on Omaha’s west side — where biritual Benedictine Father Daniel Lenz currently celebrates Divine Liturgy one Sunday per month. “Biritual” means he was ordained for the Latin rite but is permitted to celebrate Byzantine liturgies as well.
People come from all over Omaha and from the Lincoln, Nebraska, area, which is about 40 miles away, said Willkom.
Father Eyman visited the Omaha community 24 April. After celebrating Divine Liturgy for about 60 people and inaugurating the outreach, he spoke to them about the steps in becoming a canonical mission.
The most important steps are developing commitment and stability in numbers and attendance, and getting finances in order, he said.
Eventually, members hope to establish a mission on Omaha’s west side, which is currently experiencing significant demographic growth, with young families moving into the middle- to upper-class suburb from the inner city, said Willkom.
“But we’re not there yet,” he said. The “next step is incorporating locally so we can start to collect donations and provide for the liturgical needs of the community.”
He said there are currently no canonical Ruthenians residing in Omaha, but the recent news that a Byzantine Catholic couple from St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish in Munster, Indiana, intends to join the outreach once they move to Omaha this summer is encouraging, he added.
Their presence “will provide some stability and connection with the larger liturgical and spiritual life of the eparchy,” Willkom said.
The outreach also is working to establish weekly Byzantine services by the fall. Omaha’s Latin-rite Catholic archbishop gave one of his deacons permission to receive the necessary formation to lead the outreach in a Typika service — known as a Communion service in the Latin Church — on the Sundays when the priest is not available.
Willkom said the whole process has been “a journey of discovery.”
“We’re all very new to this,” he said. “The bottom line is that we’re looking for encouragement from the eparchy, and Father Bryan’s visit certainly symbolizes that.
“We’re also looking to focus on evangelization, on showing the mercy of God to each other, that same mercy we repeatedly proclaim and beg for ourselves in the Divine Liturgy,” he said.
The outreach is open to serving all Byzantines, he said. To date, they have reached out to Melkite Catholic refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq, who continue to make their way to the Omaha-Lincoln area.