9 August 2016
In this picture from 10 August 2014, children flee violence from forces loyal to ISIS in Sinjar, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
Two years ago this week, the world was beginning to grasp the full extent of the horror unfolding in Iraq.
On 3 August 2014, the Sinjar Massacre had taken place in northern Iraq, killing thousands of Yazidis as ISIS began to storm the region.
On 6 August, members of ISIS swarmed through large swaths of the Nineveh Plain, and Christians began literally running for their lives. As we reported in the pages of our magazine:
The sixth day of August promises to be a date that will be seared into the Iraqi Christian psyche for quite some time: That is the day Iraqi Christendom finally — and maybe definitively — succumbed to extremists and much of the population was sent fleeing.
The exodus was rapid and frantic, beginning in the evening of 6 August. Families recount how they had 15 minutes to half an hour to grab what they could and leave, ahead of the rapid arrival of ISIS. The roads were choked with families in cars and on foot — Chaldean and Syriac Catholics, Copts and Armenians, but also Yazidis and Shiite Muslims from all over Nineveh — all fleeing the particular brand of ISIS fundamentalism. They headed east, to Iraqi Kurdistan and the protection of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces there. By the next morning, the heartland of Christian Iraq was firmly in the hands of ISIS.
“My father sold his own mother’s gold and took a loan from the government so he could build our house, and then everything was gone in 15 minutes,” says Wissam Abdul Hadi. “He worked for years and lost everything in a few minutes.”
The sense of loss and the incomprehension of the sudden, new reality are common to many of the displaced families. Beyond the shared narrative of expulsion, the personal stories issuing from the camps, church grounds and repurposed schools and social centers housing displaced Christians are varied and many.
On 8 August, the US-led airstrikes began.
As the months that followed stretched into years, CNEWA responded — and through the selfless generosity of our donors, we have been able to provide some sense of security and hope to so many whose lives and destinies seemed hopeless. Some 120,000 Christians were displaced, scattered from towns and villages across the Nineveh Plain and forced to start over in distant cities and refugee camps, often with only the clothes on their backs.
Last summer, journalist Don Duncan described the way life had changed for the displaced — but also noted what dedication, charity and compassion had been able to achieve:
Members of the Rifo family gather in their temporary dwelling in Sulimaniyeh, Iraqi Kurdistan, in September 2014. (photo: Don Duncan)
The unfinished building across from St. Joseph’s Church in Ain Kawa, once the scene of despair and misery, now lies empty, its walls newly plastered. The formerly congested grounds of the church can breathe again. The public schools that housed two to three families to a room now ring with the sound of children learning once again. On the surface, it is almost as if all the suffering never took place.
Families have been moved from emergency tent dwellings into rented houses and container housing elsewhere in Erbil — many in the Kasnazan neighborhood at the edge of the city. And although their situation has improved over the past eight months, they are still displaced, largely jobless and uncertain what the future holds.
Throughout this trauma, a backbone of support for the displaced Christians has been the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, some 73 of whom were also exiled from their convents across the plain. Led by Sister Maria Hanna, mother superior, the community initially administered to the displaced from their convent in Ain Kawa. As families were moved from Ain Kawa to Kasnazan, it became clear a second, satellite convent was required.
“We want to be with the people — to serve the people in the moment,” says Sister Maria. “If they move someplace else, we move with them.”
This past spring, CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, made a pastoral visit to the region, and he told an interviewer it left an indelible impression:
In this image from April, CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, walks through a camp for displaced Iraqis in Dawodiya, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
What I saw was this blend of terrible sadness, and yet amazing charity and hope. Sadness, because these people who had come from Mosul or the plains of Nineveh — their families go back centuries and centuries, some to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle — had to abandon their homes in a couple of hours’ notice and couldn’t bring anything. They brought their children, obviously, and they brought their elders. The priests and nuns accompanied them on the [10-hour] walk, and they made it safely there. All these people want to do is go back home.
What’s hopeful is that they still have an extraordinarily vivid faith — their resilience is nothing less than profound. What’s moving as well is the remarkable charity and hospitality with which the Christians of Kurdistan have welcomed them.
While this story has dropped off the front pages, the plight of suffering Christians in Iraq cannot be forgotten. The crisis continues. The video report below, from Rome Reports, tells part of the story:
As the Iraqi people work to rebuild their lives, CNEWA continues to accompany them with the sense of mission, and sense of hope, that have defined us for 90 years. The displaced people of Iraq are always in our prayers. We know they are praying, too, for so many of the selfless, largely anonymous men and women — our donors — who have helped to sustain them over the last two years.
If you’d like to remember the people of Iraq in a special way during this time, please visit this page. Every gift, and every prayer, makes a difference. Thank you!
Faithful celebrate Mass and welcome Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York in Inishke, Iraq, on 10 April. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
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)
9 August 2016
Opposition fighters drive a tank in an eastern government sieged neighborhood of Aleppo. The UN says children in Aleppo are at grave risk of disease. (photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)
UN: water and power cuts threaten millions in Syria (BBC) Children in the Syrian city of Aleppo are at “grave risk” of disease unless water supplies are immediately repaired, the UN children’s agency says. The United Nations says an immediate pause in fighting is needed to allow the water and electricity networks to be fixed. Some two million people are without vital supplies, the UN says...
More than 26,000 detained in Turkey crackdown (The Independent) The number of people detained by Turkish authorities following the failed coup to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has passed 26,000. The justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, told the state-run Anadolu Agency that 16,000 of those had been formally arrested and taken into custody while 6,000 detainees were being processed and almost 8,000 suspects remain free but under investigation...
Ukraine steps up military activity (Ukraine Today) Ukraine has deployed more military equipment and forces to strengthen its army units in the Kherson region — near the administrative border between mainland Ukraine and Russia-annexed Crimea. This was confirmed by Speaker of Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces Vladyslav Seleznev, according to Krym. Realii...
Lebanese athletes refuse to travel with Israel team in Rio (BBC) Lebanese athletes refused to share a bus with the Israel team to get to Friday’s Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony, members of both teams said. Lebanon and Israel are officially at war and have no diplomatic relations. The incident happened as the Lebanon team sat on the bus waiting to head to the Maracana stadium, before demanding the Israeli athletes must not board...
Caritas Jordan launches new project (Vatican Radio) Caritas Jordan celebrated the launching of a new project “Preparing to Excel in Emergency Response — PEER” on Monday, in the conference-center of a hotel in Amman. The project will be implemented by Caritas Jordan Volunteers Centre and in partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and aims to increase synergies and interaction capabilities among Christian groups in Jordan who are engaged in various programs in order to face humanitarian emergencies...
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.
8 August 2016
In the video above, Pope Francis renews his call for peace in Syria and denounces the lack of will from those with power to end the war. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope renews call for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis renewed his condemnation of violence and his call for peace in Syria on Sunday. The Holy Father’s appeals came following the Angelus prayer with the faithful gathered beneath the window of the Papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace...
Is Syrian peace attainable? (Catholic Register) Pope Francis has put the full weight of his global pulpit behind a Caritas Internationalis campaign urging governments, especially in the West, to get on with the business of ensuring a negotiated peace in Syria. “Syria: Peace is Possible” launched July 5 with a video by Pope Francis urging the world community to work and pray for peace in Syria...
Attacks on Christians in Egypt raise alarms (USA TODAY) Residents in the southern Egyptian village of Naj al-Nassara watched in horror as their beloved Archangel Mikhail Coptic Church burned to the ground. “We heard deafening sounds of explosions and crackling as the interior of the church gave way,” said Salim Qamhi, a farmer in Naj al-Nassara. “The fire had eaten up everything — the wooden sanctuary, the icons, the pews and the books.” The fire in mid-July came amid a rash of recent attacks that have alarmed Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who blame the government for doing too little to protect them. About 10% of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population of 90 million are Christian — one of the oldest Christian communities in the world...
Erdogan backs return of death penalty following failed coup attempt (BBC) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told a vast rally in Istanbul that he would approve the return of the death penalty if it was backed by parliament and the public. He was speaking to a crowd of at least a million who had gathered in Turkey’s biggest city...
Caritas Lebanon reopens center for refugee women (Fides) A place to welcome, care for and accompany foreign women, who have often taken refuge in Lebanon and have been left alone or marginalized, with the risk of being victims of violence: this is the aim of the refuge called “The Oak,” a reception center reserved to women that Caritas Lubano has recently reopened, turning it into a comfortable, safe and welcoming place for women and their children...
Mercy, poor at center of Mother Teresa canonization events (Vatican Radio) The poor, the suffering and those who minister to them will be at the center of celebrations leading up to the canonization of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata at the Vatican. The main event — the canonization Mass — will begin at 10:30 a.m. 4 September, the Vatican announced on 5 August. A “family feast” for the poor, a musical, Masses and prayer vigils will precede her canonization, according to programs published by the Vatican and by the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded...
Pope sends letter to Refugee Olympic Team in Rio (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis sent a letter to the Refugee Olympic Team as they prepared to compete in the Olympic Games 2016 taking place in Rio de Janeiro, wishing each of them success in the competition...
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)
5 August 2016
Refugees’ tents are damaged after Russian airstrikes hit the Etarib district of Aleppo, Syria,
on 4 August 2016. (photo: Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Religious freedom threatened by Turkey’s response to coup (The Catholic Register) Civil service purges and mass arrests in Turkey since a 15 July failed coup attempt are bad news for religious freedom in what has been one of the Muslim world’s most open and democratic societies, said Canada’s former ambassador for religious freedom...
UN considers role in “deeply flawed” humanitarian plan for Syria (The Guardian) The United Nations is considering overseeing a Russian proposal to create humanitarian corridors for civilians who wish to leave besieged Aleppo, despite strong opposition from aid organizations. Confidential documents seen by the Guardian detailing internal UN deliberations on the Kremlin’s proposal, described as “deeply flawed” by humanitarian agencies, reveal the contours of a debate inside an organisation that wants to provide assistance to suffering civilians in Aleppo but fears being seen as an accomplice in an onslaught that has left a quarter of a million civilians under siege....
World Vision manager charged with funneling funds to Hamas (The New York Times) The Palestinian manager of the Gaza branch of World Vision, a major Christian aid organization, was charged by Israeli prosecutors on Thursday with infiltrating the charity on behalf of Hamas and funneling about $43 million in the group’s funds over the past six years to the military wing of the Islamist militant group...
Catholics protest demolition of cathedral in India (Vatican Radio) Tension prevailed at Tarapet in the city on the intervening night of Sunday and Monday when the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) authorities faced resistance from the clergy and lay people for demolishing a portion of the Roman Catholic church St. Peter’s Cathedral as part of the road-widening project. The church was built more than 100 years ago and is of undisputed cultural and artistic value...
Weddings offer break from gloom in Gaza (AP) In a time with little to be joyous about in Gaza, weddings have emerged as welcome festivities that offer a break from the often morose mood in the strip. The coastal territory has faced three wars with Israel over the last decade and a stifling blockade imposed by both Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant Hamas group violently overran the territory in 2007. But for the happy couple and their families, a wedding is both a respite from daily hardships and a focal point in the lives of both the well-off and the poor...
4 August 2016
Bob Baker, shown here with his wife Dita, has been a generous donor to CNEWA for 16 years. (photo: courtesy, Bob Baker)
Many of the unsung heroes in CNEWA’s world are donors who never seek attention, but make an extraordinary difference in the lives of others through their generosity. They are people like Bob Baker.
The San Diego Union Tribune profiled him a few months ago:
Sixty-three years ago, Bob Baker was a young Army corporal stationed at Outpost Harry during the Korean War when he embarked on what his commanders warned would be a suicide mission. When he ended up in the middle of a minefield during the night patrol for Chinese soldiers, he was glad that he made a deal with God. If he was able to come back alive, he would he would do whatever he was able to do.
“I told Him, if He spared me that night, I would go home, get married, have six children, become a success and do whatever he wanted me to do,” Baker said.
Bob Baker believes that God had a special plan for him, a plan that has guided him on his journey to helping others. Blessed with a beautiful family and the success of his business, the Bob Baker Auto Group, he has given back by generously supporting the Catholic Church, his community, plus programs for military veterans and the homeless.
He has also been a loyal friend of CNEWA for 16 years. Our development director, Norma Intriago, met him recently and recalls:
“Bob told us that, at one point, he wanted to become a priest but was told that because he came from a divorced family, he could not. Now he realizes that God had a different plan for him. He believes that everyone has value, and that God is there if you just listen. Just as God guided his life, his giving, God is there for everyone.”
Bob’s personal connection to CNEWA comes from his Christian Lebanese and Irish Catholic heritage. His paternal grandparents came from Lebanon and belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church. He struggled as a child, and at one point was destitute. So he is especially moved by CNEWA’s childcare initiatives, which assist needy children and orphans.
Faith and family are the pillars in Bob’s life, along with sharing those blessings with others through charity. As he explains, his guiding principle is simply this: “The main thing is to surrender to God and never give up.”
For his spirit of optimism, generosity and selfless giving — a genuinely Christian spirit that has changed countless lives, including many in CNEWA’s world — Bob Baker is truly a CNEWA hero.
4 August 2016
Tags: CNEWA Donors
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)
4 August 2016
Tags: India Sisters Kerala Indian Christians Vocations (religious)
An Iraqi Christian spruces up his shelter on 24 July with a cross and other Christian symbols at the the Ashti camp for internally displaced Iraqis in Ain Kawa, a Christian enclave of the Kurdish capital, Erbil. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
Aid agencies brace for Mosul offensive (CNS) The upcoming military offensive to root out Islamic State militants from Mosul and surrounding villages will be a “huge challenge,” the United Nations says, as it expects about 1.5 million people to flee the warfare in a short amount of time…
Fallout from failed coup leaves Syria rebels in a lurch (The Wall Street Journal) Many of the top Turkish military and intelligence officials involved in programs to assist the rebellion, including the commander of Turkey’s 2nd Army responsible for borders with Syria and Iraq, have been detained for alleged involvement in the 15 July putsch…
UN: ISIS genocide of Yazidis is ‘ongoing’ (AP) The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is still committing genocide and other crimes against the Yazidi minority in Iraq, a United Nations commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria said on Wednesday. The commission’s statement — released on the second anniversary of the initial ISIS attack on the Sinjar area in Iraq — urged action to prevent further death and suffering…
Indian delegation will head to Rome for canonization (UCanIndia) External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will lead the Indian delegation to the canonisation of Mother Teresa at the Vatican in September, it was announced on Thursday…
Patriarch Kirill backs monument to Ivan the Terrible (The Guardian) The head of the Russian Orthodox church has backed what is planned to be Russia’s first monument to Ivan the Terrible, the controversial ruler who killed his own son…
Tags: Syria Iraq India Turkey Yazidi