Current Issue
Autumn, 2016
Volume 42, Number 3
21 October 2016
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Syrian Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy at a Greek Orthodox church in the Syrian government-controlled area in the northern city of Aleppo on 16 November 2014. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) works with many groups in the Middle East. The men and women of the Franciscan family are among our partners. Franciscans have been in the Middle East since the time of St. Francis in the 13th century. The Custody of the Holy Land has been the organization through which Franciscans have worked as custodians of the holy places for eight centuries. However, Franciscan men and women in the Middle East are engaged in far more than maintaining shrines. They run parishes, schools, hospitals, etc., in almost every country in the region.

Recently the Syrian city of Aleppo has been in the news. Eastern Aleppo has been the target of almost constant bombardment, destroying homes, hospitals and people’s lives. The photograph of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, sitting bloodied and in shock in an ambulance has burned itself into the conscience of the world. Franciscan men and women are working there and Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, a Franciscan, is the Latin Rite vicar apostolic of the city.

The Rev. Michael Perry, O.F.M., the minister general of the (Franciscan) Order of Friars Minor, has recently issued a “Message Concerning Syria.” Drawing on statements of Pope Francis and the deep peace tradition of Franciscans, Father Michael calls all parties to “silence your weapons; put an end to hatred and every kind of violence, so that all may find and walk the path of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Father Michael also asks that Aleppo be designated a safe zone. Realizing the difficulties involved in such a move, he calls the operatives to use “lessons and solutions acquired in previous conflicts.” Importantly Father Michael does not call for denominational safe zones but zones which would “allow the whole population … to receive essential humanitarian aid without discrimination, to find safety and security, and to recover some trust and hope in a speedy solution, which would be motivated by peace alone.” One can only hope that the “Message Concerning Syria” is widely read and taken to heart by world leaders.

Tags: Syria Aleppo Syrian Conflict

21 October 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this September 2014 photo, internally displaced Chaldean children prepare to serve the altar in a camp in Erbil. As violence escalates amid renewed efforts to retake Mosul and the Nineveh Plain region from ISIS, refugees continue to eke out an existence in camps. You can read more about the Iraqi Christian Exodus in the Autumn 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees Chaldean Church

21 October 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Iraqi refugees in a camp in Syria’s Hassake province, seen on 19 October, await an end to the war. (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

Refugees want to return to Mosul (Fides) “The people hospitalized in refugee camps in Erbil, in Dibaga and Kirkuk are concerned,” says Mustafa Jabbar, coordinator in Erbil of the Federation of Christian Organizations for International Volunteer Service. “Many have friends and relatives forced to stay in Mosul, but many are relieved because they think that one could, with this new advance, try to go home, even if they do not know what they will find. It is feared that homes, businesses, places of worship have been destroyed…”

Fatal explosions and gunfire rock Kirkuk (Al Jazeera) ISIS fighters have attacked multiple targets in and around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, in a major assault that appeared aimed at diverting Iraqi and Kurdish forces from a massive push against Mosul, the armed group’s last major stronghold in Iraq…

ISIS attacks police compound, power plant in Kirkuk (Los Angeles Times) With an offensive underway to oust Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, militants staged a surprise attack early Friday about 95 miles south in Kirkuk…

Christian refugees facing persecution in Germany (AINA) The refugees of Christian descent who fled persecution in places like Syria and Northern Iraq are facing different kinds of attacks in Germany. According to the findings of a new survey from the Christian advocacy group Open Doors USA, religious minorities who seek safe haven in the European nation are finding a general lack of protection. Since February, nearly 800 Christian and Yazidi refugees were attacked by others at the relief centers and camps…

Russia extends ceasefire in Syrian airstrikes (Vatican Radio) Russia says a break in fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo has been extended for one more day. The announcement came moments after German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed anew for a long-term ceasefire in the devastated city following her talks with European leaders meeting in Berlin…

At least 1,500 arrests in Ethiopian state of emergency, claims news agency (The Guardian) Ethiopian authorities have arrested more than 1,500 people since declaring a state of emergency less than two weeks ago, according to a statement published by state-controlled news agency Fana. The body set up by authorities to oversee the state of emergency said 1,120 people had been arrested in the towns of Shashemene and West Arsi — south of the capital, Addis Ababa — for “violence and property damage…”

Islamic State threat to Kerala Christians worries leaders (Herald Malaysia Online) The Times of India daily recently reported that Kerala police have busted an ISIS-inspired cell. Interrogations reportedly revealed that the Islamic militant outfit was targeting churches and institutions run by “a denomination of Christians of Syrian lineage.” The report did not specify the denomination, but said they were targeted because their ancestors had killed Muslims during the historical crusades. Those from Syrian traditions form the bulk of Christians in Kerala…

Tags: Syria Iraq Ethiopia Kerala Iraqi Refugees

20 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Sister Lovely Kattumattam is one of the heroic Nirmala Dasi Sisters serving the poor outside Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Many of the CNEWA heroes we’ve met are people who feel an especially close connection to the suffering people they serve. Take, for example, Sister Lovely Kattumattam, a Nirmala Dasi Sister who works among the poor near Mumbai. A few years ago we profiled these “Slumdog Sisters,” and described their mission:

In 1971, Syro–Malabar Catholic Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam of Trichur, Kerala, founded the Society of Nirmala Dasi Sisters [S.N.D.S.] with a mission to care for society’s destitute, abandoned and marginalized. Today, its 265 sisters operate more than 30 homes, centers and clinics that serve impoverished communities, orphaned children, the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled, single mothers and their children, substance abusers, persons with H.I.V./AIDS and persons affected by Hansen’s disease. Though the sisters primarily work in Kerala, they also run facilities in other states in India as well as overseas, in Hungary and Kenya.

In 1989, Mumbai’s Syro–Malabar church leaders invited the Nirmala Dasi Sisters to minister and provide basic social services to the impoverished residents of Dharavi.

“They had great experience in this field and a very good name,” explains Father Francis Eluvathingal, chancellor of the Mumbai–based Eparchy of Kalyan. “So they were chosen for this work by the eparchy.”

Since their arrival in Dharavi, the Nirmala Dasi Sisters have disappointed no one, quickly becoming leaders within the local church and a lifeline for Dharavi’s residents.

...“It’s a blessing from the Lord to work with the poor and needy,” explains Sister Lovely Kattumattam, who worked in Dharavi for seven years. She now works at a new Syro–Malabar Catholic social service facility in a different Mumbai suburb.

“People in Dharavi are not well mannered or cultured. They have their disagreements and fights. But the sisters work for peace, fellowship and love. We live there in the same simple facilities. We have a happy life despite shortages and the respect of the community because we’ve opted to live without.”

Reflecting on her life and ministry, she summed up her philosophy:

“It’s total chaos in Dharavi,” says Sister Lovely, thinking back on her seven years in the impoverished neighborhood. “But wherever we work, we work for the Lord.”

Read more about heroic sisters like the aptly-named Sister Lovely here. And learn more about their founder, Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam, another CNEWA hero, here.

20 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A woman in Ethiopia waits for a water truck to arrive. Ethiopia has suffered its worst drought in decades, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. To learn more, read When Rain Fails in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

20 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Women who recently fled the Islamic State's stronghold of Hawija receive donated food in Iraq’s Debaga camp, outside Erbil, on 19 October. (photo: CNS /Zohra Bensemra, Reuters)

Mosul operation moving faster than expected (CNN) The operation to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul after more than two years of ISIS rule is going faster than expected, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday, as a CNN analysis of the battlefield showed forces have now captured at least 100 square kilometers [about 38 miles] of territory. The sweeping gains come as Peshmerga fighters opened a new front from the north, liberating several villages from ISIS control some 20 kilometers [12 miles] from the city...

Chaldean patriarch calls for unity in Iraq (Vatican Radio) As Iraqi troops move on Mosul to liberate the strategic city from the so-called Islamic State, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, has called for peace and national unity in Iraq...

In Turkey, Iraqi Christians live in limbo (CNS) Yako Hanna, 36, always keeps an eye on his phone waiting for a call that would change his life. “Anytime it rings, you think it is the U.N., so you have to be careful. Even if you go to the bathroom, you have to take your mobile with you,” Hanna said, referring to the call he might receive from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, which is handling his resettlement application to Australia, where he has relatives. Hanna is one of the thousands of Iraqi Christians that are in Turkey waiting, from a few months to a few years, for an answer to their resettlement applications to Western countries...

Talks move ahead on Ukraine (Reuters) Germany and France pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend a pause in air strikes in Syria and halt the “criminal” bombardment of civilians, but said four-way talks aimed at ending violence in eastern Ukraine made some progress. “We are talking here about criminal activities, about crimes against the civilians,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after what she described as a difficult discussion with Putin about the crisis in Syria...

19 October 2016
Oscar Durand, Catholic News Service

Basima Kamil, right, a refugee from Iraq who teaches at the Don Bosco Youth Center in Istanbul, spends time during a break on 3 October at the school office and teacher's room with colleagues, Wafa Toma and Dina Jouna. Kamil has been in Turkey since December 2012, waiting for an answer to her relocation application to Canada. (photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)

Yako Hanna, 36, always keeps an eye on his phone waiting for a call that would change his life.

“Anytime it rings, you think it is the U.N., so you have to be careful. Even if you go to the bathroom, you have to take your mobile with you,” Hanna said, referring to the call he might receive from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, which is handling his resettlement application to Australia, where he has relatives.

Hanna is one of the thousands of Iraqi Christians that are in Turkey waiting, from a few months to a few years, for an answer to their resettlement applications to Western countries. They are waiting for an appointment or a visa, a document that will allow them to restart their lives in a new country. And not knowing when that will happen is leading them to live a life in limbo.

Hanna grew up in a Chaldean Catholic family in the al-Dora district of Baghdad. The memories from his childhood include summer picnics, soccer games and other activities organized by his neighborhood church, St. Jacob.

Starting in 2004, car bombs, killings and attacks on Christians in Iraq become common. In 2007, St. Jacob — the church Hanna had attended for 22 years — was attacked, marking the beginning of his odyssey. He moved to a safer neighborhood in Baghdad and, when the situation worsened there as well, he fled to Tel Kaif in northern Iraq, just north of Mosul. In 2014, the Islamic State group attacked the town, and Hanna fled to Turkey.

Once in Turkey, Hanna registered with UNHCR and the Turkish government. Under Turkish law, only asylum seekers from Europe qualify for refugee status. Iraqis are eligible to receive what is called an “international protection” status, which allows them to stay in Turkey as they wait for resettlement to a third country. Being resettled is not easy or quick.

According to UNHCR, in 2015, there were more than 7,500 people resettled out of Turkey; more than 6,400 were from countries other than Syria. Turkey hosts more than 3 million refugees; about 400,000 are non-Syrians. Although the exact number of Iraqi Christians in Turkey is unknown, it is estimated that there are at least 40,000. For Hanna, the process to officially become a refugee and seek resettlement involved paperwork, travel and multiple interviews. His file was finally completed July 21, two years after he landed in Turkey.

“The first year was the worst year of my life. My future was unknown. What would I do for work? What would happen when I face a problem here? So many strange thoughts. I cried many times. I had to start not from zero but from under zero,” Hanna said.

He said he hopes that the next time the phone rings, it is a call with a positive answer to his case.

“I think it will be no less than six months. If they told me four months, it would be a miracle. I cannot guess,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hanna has found a temporary home with the Iraqi Catholic community in Istanbul. He keeps busy teaching English to refugee children, mostly from Iraq and Syria, at the Don Bosco Youth Center in Istanbul. Most of the other instructors are also from Iraq.

Basima Kamil, 42, also teaches English at the center. She is from Baghdad and has lived in Istanbul with her husband and four children since December 2012. With violence and threats toward Christians all around them, they felt they had no other option but to leave Iraq.

Once in Istanbul, Kamil and her family followed the resettlement process that is known to the Iraqi refugee community. Their first interview with UNHCR was in September 2014, almost two years after they landed in Istanbul.

When they met with Canadian officials, Kamil felt closer to her dream of finding a safe home for her family. After that interview in October 2015, Kamil was told that the next time she would be contacted, it would be for her to move to Canada. “And since then, we are waiting,” Kamil said.

Kamil worries about her children’s education. They are between 15 and 22 and she believes that, as years pass by, so do their opportunities.

“I worry about their studies. I want them to continue studying, but I am afraid that they won’t,” Kamil said.

Kamil said she is determined to continue moving ahead, even if her application is denied.

“I cannot go back to Iraq. Now there are even fewer Christians. And I have daughters, it is more difficult for them,” Kamil said.

Hanna also said he does not contemplate giving up if his resettlement application is rejected. But in the meantime, he is wasting no time. While not teaching at the Don Bosco Youth Center, he is taking Turkish lessons and is looking for a school to learn to become a barber.

“The more difficult thing is keep waiting and postponing your dreams. Until when? You don’t know. But day by day, you get used to,” Hanna said.

19 October 2016
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2015, worshipers pray at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Suez, one of the churches attacked in Egypt after the political upheaval there in 2013. To learn about the efforts to rebuild, read Out of the Ashes from the Spring 2015 edition of ONE.
(photo: David Degner)

19 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Peshmerga forces advance 18 October to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)

Iraqi forces closing in on Mosul (CNN) The Iraqi army’s armored division is closing in on Mosul’s fringes after sweeping through enemy-controlled land in the past 48 hours, liberating communities village by village, the division’s commander told CNN Wednesday, as the operation to liberate Mosul from the brutal grip of ISIS militants intensifies...

Report: thousands have fled Mosul ahead of offensive (Voice of America) Save The Children said Wednesday thousands of people have fled the Mosul area in order to escape an offensive by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the city from Islamic State militants. The aid group said about 5,000 people have arrived at a refugee camp in Syria during the past 10 days and that it is at risk of being overwhelmed as more people come. “These families arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs and find almost nothing to help them,” said Tarik Kadir, who heads the group’s Mosul response...

Displaced Christians celebrate as Iraq forces near Mosul (AFP) Hundreds of displaced Iraqi Christians danced and sang to celebrate an Iraqi military operation to retake their community’s main hub of Qaraqosh from jihadists. Iraqi Christian men, women and children — some of them holding candles — gathered at Mar Shimon church in the Kurdish capital of Arbil to pray and celebrate, an AFP correspondent reported on Tuesday. Iraqi federal forces on Tuesday moved deep into Qaraqosh, a town that lies around 15 kilometres (10 miles) southeast of Mosul and was seized by the Islamic State jihadist group in August 2014. “Today is a happy moment. There is no doubt our land will be liberated and we thank God, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary,” said Hazem Djedjou Cardomi, a journalist among the crowd...

Pope Francis: access to food, water is a basic human right (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday said access to food and water is a basic human right, and called on believers and people of good will everywhere to take personal responsibility for the needs of their neighbors...

Bishops meet to discuss pastoral care of Eastern Catholic migrants (Vatican Radio) Bishops of the Catholic Eastern Rite Churches in Europe are meeting in Portugal from 20-23 October to discuss the challenge of the pastoral care of Eastern Catholic migrants in Western European nations, especially the preservation of their cultural and ecclesial identity...

Russia opens new church in Paris (AP) Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has attended a ceremony to inaugurate a Russian Orthodox church and cultural center next to the Eiffel Tower. Russian President Vladimir Putin had planned to attend Wednesday’s ceremony at the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center but postponed his visit to Paris due to diplomatic tensions between Russia and France over the war in Syria. The complex, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral, has been built on the site of the former headquarters of France’s national weather forecasting services, near the Seine River...

18 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Ivlita Kuchaidze survived famine, war and political upheaval in Georgia— but has held on to hope in spite of every imaginable hardship. (photo: Molly Corso)

Some of most memorable people we have encountered over the years have been not only heroes, but survivors.

One of those is Ivlita Kuchaidze, whose indomitable spirit and engaging smile mask a life of exceptional challenges:

Ivlita Kuchaidze survived famine, World War II, the Cold War, the Georgian civil war and the country’s turbulent early years of independence. But, at 93, she may be facing her hardest challenge yet: Along with an estimated 400,000 other Georgian citizens, Ms. Kuchaidze endures a life of abject poverty.

After decades spent caring for others, Ms. Kuchaidze has become one of the thousands of pensioners who must depend on charity to survive.

“How do I live right now? In the cold. Hungry. Everything has gotten so expensive,” she says.

“I am used to it,” Ms. Kuchaidze adds. “I grew up half hungry. It is harder for people who used to live well.”

...Hers is the story of so many Georgians of her generation — defined, in large part, by jagged contours of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. It is the story of perseverance in the face of oppression, of holding on to hope in spite of every imaginable hardship. It is a story of longing and loss.

It is also a story of a heroic woman who never let life defeat her, despite all her difficulties. “Thank God for what I have,” she told writer Molly Corso. “Whatever I have, it is enough.”

Read more about her remarkable life here.

CNEWA is privileged to work with Caritas in helping to support “new orphans” like Ivlita Kuchaidze, people who once lived a secure and comfortable life but who now find themselves forgotten or alone — yet still holding fast to their dignity, uplifted by the faith that sustains them.

To learn how you can remember those others have forgotten, visit this link.

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