6 October 2017
Bahnam Matti removes rubble from a former clothing store in Qaraqosh. While some displaced Christians are returning to their homes, the recent referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan could have a significant impact. (photo: Raed Rafei)
As Iraq and the world cope with the results of last week’s referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan — in which an overwhelming 92 percent of ballots cast in the semiautonomous province of Iraq voted for secession — we are seeing firsthand how those results could impact Iraq’s Christians, many of whom hailed from the nation’s Nineveh Plain. When ISIS invaded northern Iraq in July 2014, tens of thousands fled to Iraqi Kurdistan. Many hoped they would eventually return to their homes.
But now that is increasingly in doubt.
Michel Constantin and Ra’ed Bahou — who direct CNEWA’s offices in Beirut and Amman, respectively — spoke of the challenges Iraqi Christians face in this suddenly changed political environment. Both are visiting New York for an annual planning meeting of CNEWA’s directors.
“I would say the real problem now is the Christians have very few choices,” said Mr. Constantin, “and all the choices are bad.”
Mr. Constantin explained that since the election, roads have been severed between Erbil, the capital of the semiautonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, and Qaraqosh, the main Christian enclave in northern Iraq. Airports in both areas have been closed. All neighboring countries, with the exception of Syria, are working to isolate Iraqi Kurdistan, he said.
“What will happen?” he asked. “Nobody knows.”
He visited Erbil just a few weeks ago and says about 2,000 Iraqi Christians there were preparing to return to Qaraqosh. But the election has upended everything. Husbands and fathers who had returned to the Christian villages to begin rebuilding their homes in anticipation of a restored life now find themselves separated from their families left behind in Iraqi Kurdistan because of the closed roads.
Adding to the problems are serious economic pressures.
“People want to go back to Qaraqosh for one reason,” Mr. Constantin said: “work.” Most breadwinners, he added, are public workers employed by the Iraqi government in Baghdad, which has stated that if they don’t leave Erbil and go back to their regular jobs, they will lose their salaries.
The situation for organizations such as CNEWA has become more challenging as well, said Mr. Bahou.
“It will be much more difficult to send money to Erbil,” he said. “Organizations just can’t work as before.”
And Christians face uncertainty of what life will be like if and when they return to their homes. Some who return find themselves surrounded by non-Christians who were hostile toward them three years ago; Iraqi Christians now have to depend on them for labor to help rebuild their homes, and many of these neighbors are charging exorbitant prices. These circumstances contribute to widespread mistrust and even fear.
“I’m afraid Christians will just go back to their villages, sell the properties, and emigrate for good,” said Mr. Constantin. “Their neighbors will take advantage of them and make them sell their homes for peanuts. They are helpless. The government is pressuring them — their livelihood, their salaries. They are endangering their lives. They have no security. There is nothing to do.”
However, he said the local church can help by working to support the community at the individual level and to encourage the government to pledge funds for reconstruction. “The church must be united,” Mr. Constantin said, and should urge the patriarchs to work together on behalf of the people.
Otherwise, “many will leave the country, permanently,” said Mr. Bahou. “And the only place they can really go now is Jordan.”
This is a theme Pope Francis himself echoed yesterday when he met with Chaldean bishops from Iraq.
“This is an occasion for me,” the pope said, “to send my greetings to the sorely tested faithful of the beloved Iraqi nation ... in regions and cities that were subjected to painful and violent oppression.” While a tragic page of history has been concluded, he said, there remains much to do.
“I exhort you to work tirelessly as builders of unity,” he said.
Hard Choices for Iraqi Christians
‘God Is With Us and Will Not Leave Us’
6 October 2017
A Franciscan sister of the Cross guides a patient through Our Lady’s Hospital for the Chronically Ill in Lebanon. Read more about how the church is Reaching the Margins in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
6 October 2017
Iraqi civilians make their way through endangered areas filled with mines and bombs on 4 October, as the Iraqi army presses into the northern town of Hawija. On Thursday, Iraq’s prime minister announced the forces had driven ISIS out of the town. (photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images)
Fighters linked to Al Quaida launch new attack in Syria (AP) Al-Qaida-linked fighters on Friday attacked a key central Syrian village at the crossroads between areas under government control and those controlled by insurgent groups, opposition activists said. In eastern Syria, meanwhile, 15 civilians, including children, were killed when a missile slammed into a government-held neighborhood in the city of Deir el-Zour on Thursday evening...
Iraq says it has taken one of the last ISIS strongholds (AP) Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday that Iraqi forces have driven the Islamic State group from one of the extremists’ last strongholds in the country, the northern town of Hawija...
World Council of Churches plans to work for peace in Ethiopia border dispute (AfricanNews.com) The World Council of Churches (WCC) has said it will pray and work for peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia in an attempt to partake in the resolution of a longstanding border dispute. This was disclosed by a WCC delegation that visited the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church last month in what was labeled a historic visit by the body. It was the first time in over a decade that such a visit had been executed...
Indian president challenged on religious persecution (Premier.org) As the 14th EU-India summit starts, the religious freedom group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have asked EU leaders not to “turn a blind eye” to the oppression and torture in India of religious people. The situation for religious citizens has worsened under the current government. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party has been accused of inciting hatred and riots against Christians and other faith groups and are the political arm of the nationalistic Hindutva (“Hinduness”) movement...
Putin takes aim at Russia’s abortion culture (Foreign Policy) Russia’s anti-abortion movement has gathered momentum in recent months, as activists — usually devout members of the influential Russian Orthodox Church — have started seizing on the country’s demographic crisis as an urgent reason for banning the practice...
In Gaza, Hamas levels an ancient treasure (AP) Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza’s earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago, unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement. But over protests that grew recently, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, allowing the flattening of this hill on the southern tip of Gaza City to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. In its newest project, Hamas-supported bulldozers are flattening the last remnants of excavation...
5 October 2017
This statue of St. Francis of Assisi stands outside Assisi’s basilica and shows Francis returning from the battlefield — obedient to God but a disgrace to his fellow citizens. It is emblematic of the saint’s profound commitment to non-violence in imitation of Christ. (photo: Elias D. Mallon)
On 4 October Christians around the world remember Giovanni di Bernadone — the earliest saint I know of with a last name.
But countless people know him better by his nickname, Francesco, and his home town, Assisi.
Francis of Assisi was born in 1182 and died on 3 October 1226. He is arguably the best known, most beloved and most frequently portrayed of any saint in the Catholic Church.
Francis is known and admired for many things, his love for nature being high on the list. But he also merits attention for a quality many easily overlook: he was profoundly committed to non-violence in imitation of Christ. This is more radical than it may sound. Francis lived in violent times and for a while was a knight — a warrior for his home town in the never-ending battles with the Umbrian villages surrounding Assisi. God revealed to him in a dream that he was to leave the battlefield — a disgrace for a knight — and follow a path of non-violence. A marvelous statue in front the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi portrays that pivotal event: Francis returning from the battlefield, obedient to God but in disgrace to his fellow citizens.
The world in which Francis lived was the world of the Crusades. Pope Urban II had called for the First Crusade on 17 November 1095, slightly less than ninety years before Francis was born. There were several different crusader expeditions until they came to an end in 1291. The Crusaders were a mixed lot, composed of high-minded idealists and low-minded soldiers of fortune. When Jerusalem was conquered by the Crusaders in 1099, there was a horrible massacre of Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians.
The time of Francis was not a time of dialogue between Islam and Christianity. Nonetheless, some extraordinary people did some extraordinary things. Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085), for example, wrote a letter to al-Nasir, a Muslim governor in North Africa. The tone of the letter is remarkable and ends with Pope Gregory saying he “prays from (his) heart that God may receive you, after a long stay here below, into the bosom of ... Abraham.”
Another extraordinary gesture was one by Francis of Assisi himself He accompanied the soldiers of the Fifth Crusade (1213-1221) and went to Damietta in Egypt in 1219. While living in the Crusader battle camp, Francis was shocked by the un-Christian life of the Crusaders. He took it upon himself to visit Sultan Malik al-Kamil, the local governor and leader of the Muslim troops. The sultan was an open man and in times of peace had encouraged encounters between Christians and Muslims. This, however, was no time of peace. His meeting with Francis, then, was truly out of the ordinary.
Though little is known in detail about the encounter between Francis and Malik al-Kamil — and there is no first-hand report — a Google search will show that it has generated a cottage industry of books and stories. However, even stripping it down to its barest essentials, the meeting remains a high point in Catholic history. We know that Francis chose dialogue over violence and respect over hatred.
It was an act of tremendous faith and courage for Francis, the poor man of Assisi, to visit the sophisticated and cultured sultan. At least initially the sultan must have found him very odd and perhaps even a bit insane. Despite the legends, we have no idea what they talked about. However, we do know that Francis returned alive — no small accomplishment — and with gifts from the sultan.
In all its bare-boned simplicity, this act of respect and non-violence — exemplifying beautifully the Gospel teaching of loving one’s enemy — would not be repeated to Muslims or vice versa for centuries.
It was an event that clearly had a profound impact on the future saint. After meeting the sultan, Francis showed little enthusiasm for the Crusades; in fact, he spoke to the brothers of his admiration for the Muslim’s dedication to prayer. The encounter, it seems, made a lasting and positive impression on him.
Perhaps that is part of the uniqueness of Francis — a medieval man who speaks to us today in a way that is compelling and surprisingly contemporary.
5 October 2017
For residents of Smakieh, Jordan — both young and old — their parish lies at the center of social life. Read how CNEWA is trying to preserve an ancient way of life among Jordan’s Christian Shepherds in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Nader Daoud)
5 October 2017
Pope Francis embraces Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako during his audience with Chaldean bishops at the Vatican. (photo: Vatican Radio)
Pope urges Iraqi Chaldean bishops to build unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged leaders of the Chaldean Church to be builders of unity, favoring dialogue and collaboration between all actors of Iraqi society. The Pope was addressing bishops in Rome for the Synod of the Chaldeans, taking place from 4 to 8 October. The Chaldean Church is headed by Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, Archbishop of Baghdad...
Pope: ‘May the Lord protect Egypt, the Middle East and the world from terrorism’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday had a special greeting for an Egyptian delegation led by the country’s Tourism Minister, in Rome to promote a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt...
Iraqi Christians ‘in danger’ after referendum (Catholic Herald) Church leaders in northern Iraq have issued a stark warning that the crisis triggered by last week’s Kurdistan independence referendum could endanger the region’s Christian presence. Following the referendum, which could see the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) area seceding from northern Iraq, five senior Catholic and Orthodox bishops issued a statement appealing to the international community to protect Christians and help them stay in their ancestral lands, especially the Nineveh Plains...
Russian Orthodox Church sends letter to top U.S. diplomat regarding religious freedom (SputnikNews) Moscow Patriarchate has sent a letter to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the regard to the recently published report of the State Department suggesting that religious minorities faced discrimination in Russia, the deputy chairman of the Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR) said...
4 October 2017
Clergy, religious and laypeople of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia pose for a photo with newly ordained Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception 24 September in Philadelphia.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Archeparchy of Philadelphia)
The newly ordained auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia said on 24 September that he was so “full of joy” about his new role serving the faithful that it was hard to put it into words.
“Today I am full of joy. This is how I feel right now,” Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy said in his homily during the hierarchical Divine Liturgy. “My joy is hard to express. My heart is overflowing. I am so happy to be with you.”
Clergy, religious and laypeople welcomed Bishop Rabiy to the archeparchy with the liturgy celebrated by the bishop at the golden-domed Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Archbishop Stefan Soroka, head of the archeparchy and metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States, was the presider and offered words of welcome.
“Our archeparchy is blessed with many priests who are dedicated and capable to exercise leadership within our church,” the archbishop said. “From amidst this talented family of priests, God has called our young Bishop Andriy Rabiy to provide spiritual leadership as our auxiliary bishop.”
Bishop Rabiy, vicar general and a pastor, was consecrated a bishop 3 September in St. George’s Cathedral in his native Lviv, Ukraine. The co-consecrators were Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Soroka and Bishop David Motiuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton, Alberta.
He was named a bishop 8 August by Pope Francis, who confirmed his election by the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. At 41, he is the youngest Catholic bishop in the United States.
During the Divine Liturgy in Philadelphia, Msgr. Dennis Kuruppassry, a representative of Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, offered greetings from the nuncio and presented the papal bull on the new bishop’s appointment. It was read in Ukrainian by Father Roman Pitula, the cathedral rector, and in English by Archpriest Michael Hutsko, dean of the South Anthracite deanery.
Bishop Rabiy presented the bull to the congregation, who responded with the traditional acclamation “Axios!” (“He Is Worthy!”)
Auxiliary Bishop Andriy Rabiy displays the official apostolic letter from Pope Francis appointing him as an auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. He held up the letter during a 24 September hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Archeparchy of Philadelphia)
In his homily, Bishop Rabiy recalled the verses from Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts.”
“Truly the joy is overwhelming,” he told the congregation about serving them as a bishop. “It is such a beautiful feeling.”
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, Auxiliary Bishop John Bura, of the Philadelphia archeparchy, welcomed his brother bishop on behalf of the clergy, religious and laity.
Bishop Bura recalled the life experiences of both Bishop Rabiy and the situation of the persecuted Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukraine in the 20th century. The underground church, the church of the catacombs, was the church Bishop Rabiy experienced in his home country.
“Bishop Andriy grew up in two worlds, two realities, in Ukraine and in America,” Bishop Bura said. “As a 17-year-old youth, he responded to Christ’s call. He entered the seminary in Ivano-Frankivsk and eventually St. Josaphat Seminary in Washington, D.C. He’s lived in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“As a bishop, he will reveal the faith and beauty of our church to all believers,” he added.
After Bishop Bura’s remarks, Bishop Rabiy went up and down the aisles of the spacious cathedral blessing the congregation with holy water.
Bishop Rabiy will continue as pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Reading and administrator of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Lancaster, a newly formed mission parish which he founded in February 2013.
Bishops who concelebrated the Divine Liturgy of welcome included Bishop Bura; Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; Archbishop William C. Skurla of the Byzantine Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; Bishop Kurt R. Burnette of the Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey; Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Deliman of the Latin Archdiocese of Philadelphia; retired Bishop Basil H. Losten of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stamford; and retired Bishop James C. Timlin of the Latin Diocese of Scranton. Several priests also concelebrated and Deacons Michael Waak and Paul M. Spotts assisted.
Seminarians from St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary Washington were the altar servers. Liturgical responses were sung by the choir of the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington.
4 October 2017
Father Tom Uzhunnalil, freed last month after over a year in captivity in Yemen, will receive the Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice in Mumbai. (photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)
Kidnapped Indian priest to get Mother Teresa award (Vatican Radio) Father Tom, recently freed after 18 months captivity in Yemen, has been named this year’s recipient of the Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice by Harmony Foundation Mumbai. Abraham Mathai, founder of Harmony Foundation said Father Tom exemplifies the year’s theme “Compassion Beyond Borders — a compassionate response to the refugee crisis.” Father Tom he said continued to work at a place of great danger despite having had the chance to leave the country...
Kurdish referendum could imperil Christian safe haven in Iraq (National Catholic Register) The Kurdish referendum vote for independence from Iraq has raised the specter of all-out war that, Middle East Christian leaders and advocates warn, could land the final blow to the future of Christianity in its historic Mesopotamian homeland...
Russia says airstrips wounded Al Quaida leader in Syria (AP) Russia’s military announced on Wednesday that it has carried out airstrikes in Syria this week that critically wounded the leader of the country’s al-Qaida-linked group and killed 12 other militant commanders...
Archeologists believe they have discovered tomb of St. Nicholas (The Telegraph) Archaeologists in Turkey have made a discovery which could settle a century-old debate ... and disappoint millions of children around the world. They have unearthed what they say is likely the tomb of the original Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, beneath an ancient church in Demre, southern Turkey...
The town that gave Russia its name (BBC) One hundred years ago, revolution flung Russia from the imperialist era into the communist era — from centuries of tsars to red Soviet stars. In St Petersburg, extravagant palaces recall the lavish lifestyles of the Russian emperors, while in Moscow, austere skyscrapers are reminders of the stark existence under dictatorial rule. Even though it’s been a century since Russians found themselves at the crossroads between these two major phases of their nation’s history, many are still at odds with one another over which period — and which city — had the greatest impact on today’s Russian culture and sparked citizens’ profound patriotism...
3 October 2017
Sami El-Yousef served for eight years as CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. In September, he became Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate. (photo: Don Duncan)
CNEWA’s former regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, has taken the reins as the Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate —the first lay person to hold the position.
An interview with him was just posted on the patriarchate’s website:
What do you hope that this change will bring to our diocese?
It was a great honor to be asked to be the first lay administrator to assume the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate. Though there has been a trend within the universal church to turn over such responsibilities to lay leadership, on our local scene which is overburdened with history and tradition this constitutes a major and historic change. It is my hope and dream that this change will bear fruit and the emerging partnership and shared responsibility between the religious and lay leadership will lead the Latin Patriarchate to new highs and position it ideally to serve our local community. Thus, teamwork will be key in the coming period as no one can succeed alone without the collective efforts of all our committed staff and collaborators.
Throughout your professional career, you assumed many positions within the institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, could you talk to us about your background and work experiences?
By way of a personal introduction, I am a native of the Old City of Jerusalem and have worked for most of my professional career for the institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. After completing my university education in the United States, I returned to Palestine in 1980 and started working at Bethlehem University in various positions over two periods for a total of 24 years. There I assumed a number of responsibilities including teaching assistant; lecturer; dean of faculty of business administration; assistant vice president for academic affairs; and finally, the first lay person to assume the duties of vice president for finances and planning from 2000-2009. Feeling the heavy burden of administration and routine work, I moved to a new line of work as I joined the CNEWA — Pontifical Mission for Palestine (PMP) office team in Jerusalem in 2009 as the second lay regional director for Palestine and Israel. There I was exposed to humanitarian and development work and was involved in institutional support to tens of mostly Christian institutions providing quality services to marginalized communities in the sectors of education, health, and social services.
How will you incorporate your work experiences in your new duties as Chief Executive Officer at LPJ?
After eight years at CNEWA — PMP, I again felt that now is a time of change for me personally as I’m called to tackle the challenges and opportunities at the Latin Patriarchate given the nature of the services it offers. At LPJ, I will combine my administrative and financial management experience acquired at Bethlehem University along with the humanitarian and development experience of CNEWA — PMP. Not only is the Latin Patriarchate the local church with a diocese covering four countries in the Holy Land, but its services are rich through its many institutions of service in a number of sectors, most notably in the area of education through a network of 45 schools in Jordan, Israel and Palestine. In addition, we should not underestimate the humanitarian, medical, scholarship and pastoral support provided to thousands on an annual basis nor the centers that provide quality services ranging from senior citizens in Taybeh to severely disabled children in Amman to mention just a few.
Read more at the link.
3 October 2017
Slewa Shamoon Aba displays a broken crucifix in the garden of his home. With the exit of ISIS, many Iraqi Christians are returning to their homes and villages and trying to rebuild.
(photo: Raed Rafei)
In the September 2017 edition of ONE, photojournalist Raed Rafei visits once-displaced Iraq Christians who are returning to home and having to make some Hard Choices:
Iraq’s largest Christian city, Qaraqosh served as a commercial hub for the entire region of the Nineveh Plain. Since the landmines were cleared and the area was declared safe in April, some 500 families have returned — a fraction of the pre-war population of 50,000.
Yet the simple fact that they are here tells a story of resilience, determination and faith.
In a once-bustling commercial neighborhood known simply as Al Souk (Arabic for “market”), locals have begun the mammoth task of clearing away rubble. With a shovel in hand and a black hat, Bahnam Matti, 72, removes detritus from what had been a clothes shop, now desolate with large holes in the ceiling. Every now and then, he pauses to wipe the sweat off his face with a pink towel placed on his shoulder.
Across the street, a woman in a bright red and blue dress sprays water from a hose on the entrance of her scorched restaurant. Others paint walls or cut wood panels, undaunted by the scale of destruction — scores of collapsed rooftops, smashed storefronts and hills of accumulated debris.
...Despite some shy rebuilding efforts by churches and homeowners, the estimated $70 million needed for the overall reconstruction of Qaraqosh still looms large. Several organizations have pledged to help with large finances, but substantial aid has not materialized yet.
The condition of Qaraqosh is not very different from that of most Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, which typically report damage to 30 to 40 percent of structures — houses, schools, public institutions, churches, monasteries and hospitals alike.
But some towns, such as Batnaya, have been rendered completely uninhabitable, reporting 85 percent of buildings demolished under heavy aerial bombardment
Read more — and check out the video below.