11 April 2016
Displaced Iraqis celebrate Mass in Inishke, Iraq, on 10 April. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
A delegation of U.S. Catholic leaders visiting northern Iraq was challenged to go home and work for peace in the troubled region.
“You have come to listen to your brothers and sisters in Iraq who are suffering. The situation is very hard. We cry out with one voice, ‘Don’t forget us,’” Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad said during a Mass in the small village of Inishke, near Dahuk.
The Chaldean Catholic service included members of the local Christian community, as well as Christians who were displaced by the Islamic State group from elsewhere in Iraq. Representatives of the Yezidi and Muslim communities also greeted the delegation, which was headed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. He was accompanied by Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, who is also on the CNEWA board.
The group spent April 9-11 in Kurdistan, the autonomous region of northern Iraq. When Islamic State swept through Mosul and Qaraqosh in 2014, more than 125,000 Christians, along with other victims, fled to safety in Kurdistan, where CNEWA has helped local churches construct housing, clinics and schools.
Yet Bishop Warduni said peace trumps humanitarian aid any day.
“We don’t want anything. Iraq is very rich, but now it is very poor. We only want our rights to go back to our homes and villages,” he said.
Looking directly at Cardinal Dolan, Bishop Warduni said: “We need a good Samaritan, but a new one, and this is you, along with the other leaders who came with you. We thank you and your people, for they have done so much for us with their prayers and with their money. But we ask you to ask your government to establish peace in our country. Tell your president, please, that our children and our youth want to grow in freedom. Your Eminence, take with you our good wishes to your faithful, and don’t forget us.”
In his homily for the Mass, Cardinal Dolan told those packed into the small church: “You are now suffering away from your homes and families. You are on the cross with Jesus. But we can never forget that Easter always conquers Good Friday. The resurrection always triumphs over the cross.”
Speaking through a translator because the service was in Aramaic, Cardinal Dolan said: “Jesus is alive in the love and charity that his people have for one another. That is why in our time here in Kurdistan we have seen Jesus alive in hospitals and clinics and refugee camps and schools and parishes like this. And it is our privilege to be able to be part of this love and charity that you have for one another here.”
“We have come to tell you we love you very much,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We know of your suffering. And we can never forget you.”
In an 11 April Mass in a camp for the displaced in Ainkawa, on the outskirts of Irbil, the delegation got the same message it heard the previous day.
“We feel very grateful for this fraternal solidarity that you are showing. And we all do hope that you will intervene with your government, with those who have a word to say on the international scene, to be faithful to the principles on which your country was founded. That includes the right of all people, every human being, to live in freedom and dignity,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said in his homily.
“When we see that strong nations like yours uphold the rights of those who have been uprooted, at that time we will really live the hope of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.”
In an interview at the end of the visit, Cardinal Dolan told Catholic News Service that the pastoral visit would provoke renewed advocacy back home.
“We value the relationship we have with our government, but we sometimes smile when outsiders think we have a lot more clout than we really have. But that’s not going to stop us from trying,” the cardinal said. “When we get back, Bishop Murphy and I will brief our fellow bishops and the Holy See, and we will share with our political leaders what we have seen and heard. We owe it to the people here because they have asked us to do that.”
Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that the church’s counsel was rejected in the lead up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which many believe helped create the conditions from which Islamic State emerged.
“Catholics in the United States can at least be grateful that, more often than not, the church has been on the right side when it comes to these issues,” Cardinal Dolan said. “Pope St. John Paul II told our presidents, ‘This will be a road of no return, and you will look back in future years and regret what you’re doing.””
Bishop Murphy said the U.S. bishops always spoke of the need for caution in the region.
“Maybe we were too cautious with our cautionary words, and I think you could make a case for that, but there are a lot of people who have strong opinions against what happened who voted for it at the time. We never did,” he told CNS.
As they visited with the displaced and the pastoral workers who accompany them, some of what the U.S. church leaders saw and heard was not easy to experience. In an 9 April public forum in a displaced camp in Ainkawa, Amal Mare was one of several displaced persons who offered testimony. She praised local Christians for welcoming her family when they fled from Qaraqosh.
“Yet when are we going to be able to leave? We are living here in misery, and we want to go back to Qaraqosh,” she said, sobbing as Cardinal Dolan embraced her. “We miss our churches. We are sons and daughters of the church. Here we created a church in this hall, and every night for the last 18 months we have all prayed the rosary here. But now we’re losing hope. How much longer will we have to wait?”
Meeting 9 April with a group of students at the Chaldean Catholic St. Peter’s Seminary in Irbil, Cardinal Dolan told the seminarians that they had good models of ministry from which to learn.
“Pope Francis keeps saying that we priests must be with our people. We just came from a refugee camp where we met a priest who slept outside on his mattress because he said he couldn’t sleep inside if his people were outside. We’ve met with sisters and priests who walked with the people from Mosul as they were fleeing. That’s the model of the priesthood. That’s Jesus. To be with our people all the time, to be especially close to your people in the difficult times,” the cardinal said.
Bishop Murphy told the seminarians he was impressed by their faithfulness in the midst of violence and terror.
“Although these are difficult times, the church has always known difficult times. You lift me up. It is the strength of your faith that has brought you here, and it is that faith which gives me great hope for your future,” he said.
The head of the Chaldean Catholic community in Kurdistan, which has provided a variety of services to the displaced, praised the church leaders’ visit.
“It has been a visit of solidarity, a visit of love, a visit of hope, where we can really feel that we are not forgotten, that we’ve been in the prayers of His Eminence and the bishops and the whole Christian community in America. It means a lot for us,” Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil told Catholic News Service.
“And once we’re not forgotten, we are sure they will make every possible effort to remind the politicians, to remind everyone, that there are persecuted, vulnerable communities in Iraq. They are Christians, Yezidis and others, and we have to do something for them. We are brothers, and whenever a brother suffers or experiences sadness, the family gets together, prays together, and works together to overcome this.”
In addition to Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Murphy, the delegation included Msgr. John Kozar, president of CNEWA, and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York.
11 April 2016
Cardinal Dolan greets worshipers at a discplacement camp in Iraq.
(photo: Tom Gallagher/National Catholic Reporter)
The New York Post this morning has a brief roundup of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s visit to Iraqi Kurdistan:
Timothy Cardinal Dolan traveled to war-torn northern Iraq to lift the spirits of Christian families persecuted by ISIS and displaced from their homes.
“Please, hear us say we love you, we need you, we cannot forget you,” Dolan told the faithful Saturday at the St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary in Erbil, the last Christian seminary in the country, according to the Catholic News Agency.
Dolan led a delegation of Catholic officials from New York, and encouraged the flock to reject the notion that the church is dead in Iraq.
Read it all.
11 April 2016
Two young displaced Iraqis display determination and hope. (photo: Kevin Sullivan)
Today’s visit to the school for children displaced from Mosul was more celebratory with the presence of Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Warda and Bishop Murphy. An assembly of more than 440 students gathered in the central square of the school accompanied by marching music. CNEWA’s head Msgr. Kozar made sure that the visitors experienced the uplifting spirit of the school that the Dominican Sisters infuse every day. The deeply spiritual atmosphere of the school is exemplified by the volunteer French catechist and her Iraqi translator who teach the children how to pray to Jesus. CNEWA support and spirit are essential to making the school so successful.
The visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters provided a life lesson in the suffering and deaths caused by persecution and deviant religious actions. Some 74 sisters fled ISIS terrorism from the Mosul area in August 2015. When they first arrived, only some could live in the convent due to lack of space. Many lived in quickly arranged trailers on the convent grounds. Over the past year, 24 sisters have died of various causes from the effects of the trauma they suffered. Eight sisters are living in trailers. Contrary to secular expectations, this community that has experienced so much suffering and death is a strong source of life and hope not merely among themselves but for the tens of thousands they serve in schools, clinics and camps in the Erbil region.
The camp visited today is a place of both faith and frustration: strong faith in Jesus and strong frustration that the future seems indeterminate. The desire to return to the homes from which they have been displaced is frustrated by the uncertainty if and when this might be possible. There is the awareness that they must rebuild from the ground up as the houses and places of worship they left are no longer theirs — if any are even still standing. Accompanying this frustration and anger is also a vision of hope as one young women sees herself as a journalist telling the poignant stores of her people.
The day ended with a visit to a seminary and the 17 seminarians studying for the priesthood in this persecuted and war torn land. My cursory math (subject to correction upon further review) made me quickly estimate that percentage-wise there are more seminarians per total Catholics in Iraq than there are in New York. One was asked about his fear of persecution. His response was simple; that this is part of our Christian faith.
You can see more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures on his blog Just Love.
10 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan greets Iraqis in the village of Inishke before Mass on 10 April 2016.
(photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
Elise Harris of CNA continues her coverage of Cardinal Dolan’s pastoral visit to Iraq with CNEWA:
On his second full day in Iraq, Cardinal Timothy Dolan traveled three hours to Dohuk, the city where the majority of those who fled Mosul, including the members of the minority Yazidi population, escaped to when ISIS overran the city.
After the lengthy ride, Cardinal Dolan briefly visited a medical dispensary set up by CNEWA, where he greeted the staff and some refugees, most of whom come from Mosul.
He then traveled to the Inishke village in the upper region of Dohuk where he concelebrated Mass in the Chaldean rite in the presence of the local Christian community, a number of refugees, as well as representatives of the Yazidi and Muslim communities.
The principal celebrant for the Mass was Bishop Shlemom Wardoni, who is one of three auxiliary bishops serving under Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. Members of other rites, including the Syriac-Catholic rite, were also present at the Mass, including a number of displaced priests.
Although Cardinal Dolan was not the main celebrant at Mass, he preached the homily, conveying the core message that he came to share with everyone: “We love you...You are not forgotten.”
10 April 2016
CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is making a pastoral visit to displaced Iraqi Christians
in Erbil. (photo: CNA)
CNA’s Elise Harris, accompanying Cardinal Timothy Dolan and CNEWA’s team on the pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, filed a report this afternoon on the cardinal’s visit to a seminary in Iraq:
After spending his first full day in Erbil, Iraq, Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave a special message to men studying in Iraq’s only remaining seminary for diocesan priests.
“You, you will be the apostles. You will be the heralds. You will help convert the world,” Cardinal Dolan said 9 April.
He spoke to the nearly 30 seminarians currently studying at St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary for the Chaldean Patriarchate in Erbil after having toured different projects that help the internally displaced and listening to their stories of suffering.
While some might be tempted to say that the Church is dying in Iraq, and that it is more alive in other areas, “we say to you no. Here is where the Church is alive.”
“You are teaching us,” the cardinal said. “So please hear us say we love you, we need you, we cannot forget you.”
Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, spoke to the seminarians on his first full day in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he is currently on a pastoral visit intended to offer support and solidarity to families, Church leaders, priests and religious who were displaced as a result of ISIS attacks in 2014.
He is traveling in his capacity as chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) along with CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, and the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan. CNA is also part of the delegation.
The seminary is the only one left in Iraq that provides formation for diocesan priests in the country, and is one of the many structures and projects supported by CNEWA. First established in Baghdad, the seminary was later moved to Erbil for security reasons, and is headed by the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda.
Read the rest.
9 April 2016
A mother and child greet visitors to the camp in Erbil. (photo: Kevin Sullivan)
In the morning, we visited one of the medical clinics and refugee camps in Erbil. The camp is overseen by one of the local priests and the Dominican Sisters are actively present. The clinic is supported by and was built with the assistance of CNEWA. More than 90 children are seen at the pediatric clinic each day. Hundreds of adults are seen and administered other medical services at the clinic.
The camp holds more than 1,200 families — most living in their own trailer. Some families are doubled up. About 50 families are living in single room containers in a large warehouse type building. While this is a refugee “camp,” it appears more like a makeshift “village.” Families try to make the best of the situation — redecorating and renovating their trailers to suit their individual family needs. Some small businesses have opened and are selling basic necessities. In the “village,” more than 400 young people are preparing for their First Communion.
In the afternoon and evening, we had the opportunity to meet with the local Archbishop and hear his understanding of the current situation. His report is both painful and hopeful. He tells of the cruelty that the Christians have faced in the past few years — often times at the hands of those who were their neighbors and friends. At the same time, he speaks of the courage and hope of the more than 80,000 Christians who fled from the Mosul area to Erbil. The suffering and persecution coupled with the courage and hope are essential parts of the story of the past few years as well as the present.
See more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures at his blog Just Love. And you can read his account of his first day visiting the region here.
9 April 2016
Students at the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena’s prefab school in Ainkawa, Erbil, on
7 April 2016. (photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
Elise Harris, with Catholic News Agency, is among those traveling with the CNEWA team and Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Iraqi Kurdistan this week. She filed this report:
Six hundred Christian children whose families fled ISIS violence in 2014 have lost their homes, schools, sometimes friends, sanitary living conditions and the stability of a normal life.
However, despite their many losses, there’s one thing they never left behind and which continues to grow stronger everyday: their faith.
When it comes to the question of how to persevere in the faith — and pass it on with terrorists just a few miles away — one woman named Carin has developed a unique form of catechesis that she is teaching to displaced Christian children in Iraq.
“I think that children have the capacity to worship Jesus, to contemplate,” Carin told CNA in a 7 April interview in Erbil.
Her classes aren’t intended to just teach the kids how to pray, but rather to provide them the opportunity “to meet with Jesus, to give and receive his love” on a personal level, she said.
A French native, Carin is a volunteer at a prefabricated school run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in the Iraqi city of Erbil, which provides education to 600 displaced Christian children and is sustained by funding from charitable organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
Most of the children attending the school are from either Mosul or Qaraqosh, the former Christian capitol of Iraqi Kurdistan, and are among the 120,000 families who fled Qaraqosh when ISIS attacked in August 2014.
9 April 2016
Shelters for internally displaced people in a camp in Iraqi Kurdistan are converted shipping containers. (photo: Tom Gallagher)
The National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher is traveling with the CNEWA team and Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Iraq. Late Friday, he filed this report for NCR on some of what he saw in the camps that are now home for displaced Iraqi Christians:
Our small delegation visited two camps, Ashty 1 and Ashty 2, located in Ainkawa, as well as a nearby health care clinic initially established by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
More than 5,500 people, mostly Christian, reside at Ashty 1 camp. The camp has more men than women, more than 2,000 children, 107 widows, 75 orphans and 185 disabled people.
A grade school serves 750 students. The camp has a workshop where women create small handcrafted mosaics and it has a small factory where sesame seeds are ground to make pastes and dips. A basketball court and soccer field provide space for recreation.
The camp’s church, located under a large tent a year ago, is now located at a newly constructed building that seats 800.
Some enterprising camp residents have created small businesses fixing shoes, selling food and drink items, and selling snow cones.
The camp’s director described the daily challenges people face. The main problem is potable water. Gas generators and chlorination are used to create clean water. For every 10 families, a septic tank is installed. The Kurdish government removes trash.
The homes are converted shipping containers, sitting on cinderblocks. They are cramped, airless spaces with two windows and a front door. One window contains a boxy air conditioner. The camp’s streets are made of hard-packed mud and stone and dust is constant. Families hang their washed clothing to dry on lines tied to their buildings.
Another challenge for the camp is new marriages. Since there is no more living space available, young couples are forced to live with their parents after marriage, which leads to inevitable conflict.
Some families add space by attaching a thin frame with fencing or tarps to the containers. After two years, the camp’s temporary housing is taking on the feel of permanent housing. There is no place to go, no home to return to, as the Islamic State group either continues to occupy their towns or has booby-trapped the towns with explosives, or the region otherwise remains too dangerous to return.
“If we did not believe in Jesus, half of us would commit suicide,” said the camp director when asked to describe the mental health of those in camp.
As we meandered through the streets of Ashty 1, Msgr. John Kozar, president of the New York City-based CNEWA, greeted people warmly and reassured them that they are not forgotten, that they are loved and that, as Christians, they are our brothers and sisters.
Read on for more, including details of how CNEWA is supporting people in the camps.
CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets some of the residents of Camp Ashty 1 in Ainkawa, Iraq. (photo: Tom Gallagher)
8 April 2016
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan visited an elementary school in Erbil — and made some new friends — on his first day in Kurdistan (photo: courtesy, Kevin Sullivan).
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan is Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and is traveling with Cardinal Dolan and the CNEWA team to Iraq this week. He posted the following on his blog Just Love.
On the first day of a mission with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and Cardinal Dolan I had an opportunity to visit both an elementary school and a university in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. Both were only built and opened within the past year to deal with the exodus of Christians fleeing the onslaught of ISIS around Mosul beginning in the summer of 2014.
These photos reflect the vibrancy of both sites as their very existence brings dignity and hope to those being educated at these schools. The Dominican Sisters operate the elementary school that is strongly supported by CNEWA and a number of other Catholic humanitarian and pastoral aid organizations. The University is a public university that CNEWA has provided assistance in the form of furnishings and a generator. It educates both Christian and Muslim students, men and women together for degrees in the humanities and business.
In addition, a festive gathering of prayer and theatre among hundreds of Christian youth — mostly Syriac Catholic — was held next to the university to open the Year of Mercy. It was led by the local Bishop who had fled with his people from Mosul. Msgr. Kozar, the head of CNEWA gave a very warm and inspiring talk to the youth.
View more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures from the trip at this link.
7 April 2016
Internally displaced Iraqi school children pose for a picture at Al Bishara School (Annunciation School), run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ainkawa, a suburb of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo: Tom Gallagher/NCR)
This week, CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is embarking on a pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, to visit with displaced Iraqis. The trip is already beginning to generate some press coverage, including this report from Catholic News Agency and an interview with the Cardinal in Crux.
You can read about the trip and what it entails right here.
And if you look to the sidebar on the left, you’ll see a widget we have just installed, “Journey to Iraq.” Consider this your one-stop spot for following the trip and picking up the latest news and developments over the next several days.
We hope to post news, photographs and possibly even video. So check back often.
Meantime, the latest post on the trip comes from National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher, who writes:
The first full day on the ground in the northern region of Iraq known as Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region recognized by the Iraqi government in Baghdad, is completed. Our small delegation visited a grade school, Al Bishara School — the Annunciation School — located in Ankawa, a largely Christian community on the outskirts of Erbil, that is run by the Dominican Sisters. After lunch, we visited a newly-established public university serving some 1,400 students seeking a bachelor’s degree, and attended a religious ceremony at a nearby Christian church celebrating the Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis.
The children at Al Bishara School were enjoying recess when we arrived. Like most kids the world over, they loved getting their pictures taken. They horsed around and pushed and shoved to get their picture taken. Pairs of kids would wait patiently for their turn. When they saw themselves on the digital camera screen afterwards, they smiled and laughed and elbowed each other. It could have been recess at any grade school in the U.S.
One of the highlights of the first day was an exclusive NCR interview with Dominican Sister Maria Hanna, superior general of the Dominican Sisters, who shared the harrowing story of exodus from the City of Mosul, just over 50 miles from Erbil, from the village of Bashiqa, some twenty minutes from Mosul, and from Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city of Iraq. It is a compelling story, which I will file soon.
Erbil is a city of contradictions.
Read on for more.