7 May 2015
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, center, celebrates Mass on 3 May for displaced Iraqis in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNS/John E. Kozar)
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and CNEWA president John E. Kozar concluded their pastoral visit to Iraq this week, and experienced first hand the profound faith and resilience of the country’s Christians:
The head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches visited Iraq to convey Pope Francis’ blessing and concern for Church officials and the displaced living and working in difficult circumstances.
In Dohuk, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri hugged children and comforted adults who expressed only one wish: to go back home. Pope Francis’ envoy left a few pictures of the pontiff that children held proudly, with large smiles. The displaced slept up to 20 per room, with baggage and cardboard boxes marking the space for each family. Carpets on the floor and an ever-running television were the only comforts for 60 families that share a few gas stoves and even fewer toilets.
At a Mass outside of a Syriac Catholic church in Erbil on 3 May, Sandri told Iraqis who had fled from Islamic State militants that their “hearts and lives had signs of the violence, persecution and dissemination that forced many to abandon their house in the plain of Ninevah, in Mosul, in Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) and in other villages, to find a safe shelter.”
The Mass’ main celebrant was by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, but Sandri preached. In his homily, he spoke of the massacre of Assyrians by the Ottoman Empire a century ago.
“We remain speechless,” he said, “before this violence and aggression, but mostly because the human heart seems to have learned nothing from the dramas that shook the 20th century and that continue today while shedding more innocent blood with a blind and destructive blindness.
“Your pastors, the Pope and the universal Church fear a general exodus from lands that have been Christian for 2,000 years,” he said.
Before going to Erbil, Sandri spent three days in Baghdad, where he met with Iraq’s president and prime minister. Iraq without Christians would not be Iraq anymore, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told him, echoing Pope Francis’ recurring declarations about the Middle East. President Fuad Masum told the cardinal he hoped the Pope would visit as soon as the situation will allow it.
In Erbil, Sandri met with about 10 members of ROACO, a coalition of funding agencies co-ordinated by the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Among them were the heads of French and German agencies as well as Aid to the Church in Need, the Holy Childhood Association and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. During the two days prior to that meeting, members of ROACO visited many camps with displaced people, trying to evaluate their needs.
Msgr. John Kozar, head of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told Catholic News Service that water is the “single most important reality” and is always in short supply.
“Even in the midst of extreme poverty and the complete lack of privacy and personal or family space, the refugees were so loving, welcoming and filled with gratitude and hope,” he said. “Some who had no kitchen or running water humbled us by offering us tea.”
During a meeting with the displaced in Ain Kawa, one man told the agency heads: “The only thing we want is to go back home.”
Then a girl named Tamara, 12, told them with a radiant face: “ISIS took everything, but we still have our faith in Jesus Christ, and they will never take it.”
7 May 2015
An oil over acrylic painting called "Burden" by Syrian artist Essa Neima.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Essa Neima)
A young Syrian painter named Essa Neima is translating the turmoil of his homeland into striking works of art:
At a recent exhibit, his oil on acrylic works ranged from depictions of damaged church and mosque mosaics, to a broken icon of Mary and a refugee woman forced into servitude by the need to survive.
Most of the paintings were strewn with the deep red color of blood.
“It is like treasure ... covered by blood because (of) what’s happening now, the sad events happening in Syria,” Neima told Catholic News Service in Washington, thousands of miles from his country, where conflict has killed nearly 200,000 people and dispersed about 10 million others, according to U.N. Estimates.
...He said he hoped his paintings would encourage more Americans to stand up against the war and to learn more about Syria’s rich heritage and culturally diverse society, often overlooked in U.S. news outlets, which he claimed were simplifying his country’s conflict.
“My message from this art show (is) to be a little bit optimistic about the situation and see things you don’t see it in the media,” Neima said.
“If I will watch (U.S.) media ... I see just three parties: There is a government, there is a free army and there are the extremists, and you think that there (are) just three parties and they are killing each other. The reality is there (are) a lot of people (who) care just to live peacefully. They just want their life to be safe, or they want to raise kids, or to have jobs, like the normal life.”
But even Neima seemed hard-pressed to understand how a conflict so violent could erupt in multicultural Syria, where he said he counted many friends from among the Arab country’s predominantly Muslim population.
“The Syrian society, when I was living there, was ... a liberal society. It wasn’t like I support the extremists because I am Muslim, or like because I am Christian I will belong to so and so ... there was not this category,” Neima said.
He said he had lived in Washington since 2012 and was teaching art at the University of the District of Columbia, but wanted eventually to return to Syria, where his parents and seven siblings still live, “when the conflict is over” and “everyone there accepts the other ... and lives in peace.”
To learn how you can support the suffering people of Syria, visit this giving page.
7 May 2015
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, speaks with displaced Iraqis on 4 May in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Report: Number of internally displaced around the world grows (AP) A group that monitors the plight of people forced out of their homes by conflicts says the number of people displaced within their own countries surged to 38 million last year, with a few countries led by Iraq accounting for much of the increase. The Geneva-based International Displacement Monitoring Center said the number of internally displaced people worldwide was 4.7 million higher than in 2013...
Rescue workers report evidence of Syria using chemical weapons (The New York Times) Two years after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, there is mounting evidence that his government is flouting international law to drop jerry-built chlorine bombs on insurgent-held areas...
Troops killed as ceasefire in Ukraine falters (CNN) Fighting has again shaken a nearly three-month ceasefire deal between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, leaving five Ukrainian troops dead in a 24-hour period, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday. Twelve other Ukrainian service members were injured in the fighting in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine, the country’s National Security and Defense Council said...
Israel investigating underground tunnels near kibbutz (Haaretz) The Israeli army on Wednesday notified Kibbutz Nirim in the northwest Negev that it will check for underground tunnels in the area, following geological surveys carried out in the kibbutz by a private company. Some two months ago a number of kibbutz members contracted Geotech, a company specializing in airborne geophysical survey mapping, to check for underground digging in the area. The kibbutz members had been complaining since the war in Gaza in the summer that they were hearing noises of digging underground...
How can American Catholics help Christians in the Middle East? (U.S. Catholic) The ISIS blitzkrieg into northern Iraq last summer and the subsequent decimation of one of the oldest Christian communities of the church — coupled with the so-called Islamic State’s recent executions of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians — have earned Middle East Christians some attention, if not quite the respect, of the politicians, candidates, policy wonks and journalists inside the Beltway. The headlines are dramatic and betray a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. How can Catholics respond to this diabolical assault?...
6 May 2015
The influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is creating a new class of poor in the country: the Lebanese people themselves.
In the Spring edition of ONE, reporter Raed Rafei notes:
In the past three years, more and more Lebanese have joined the ranks of the poor because of the influx of an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria — a staggering figure, representing one refugee for every three people already residing in Lebanon. International organizations and local government officials describe the impact of the refugee crisis on the country as “disastrous” because of fierce competition for jobs, inflation of food prices and rental costs, a slowing economy and growing needs that have overwhelmed social services, infrastructure and government resources.
Read more about “Lebanon on the Brink” in the magazine. And for a graphic look at what all this means, check out Raed Rafei’s powerful video below, profiling one Lebanese family:
6 May 2015
The Harlem Globetrotters meet the globetrotting Pope Francis after his General Audience
on 6 May. (photo: Vatican Radio)
A famous basketball team inducted a new member today:
Pope Francis met on Wednesday with members of the Harlem Globetrotters, the famous basketball team from the United States.
During the encounter, they gave the Holy Father a jersey with the name “Pope Francis” and the number 90.
The Harlem Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team founded in the 1920’s, featuring African-American players at a time when most sports were segregated. In later years, they were known for adding comedy and stunts to their routines. They are currently in Italy as part of their 2015 international tour.
Before meeting the Pope, members of the team entertained members of the crowd, spinning their signature red-white-and-blue basketballs.
The Harlem Globetrotters met with Pope St. John Paul II in 2000, and named him an Honorary Harlem Globetrotter.
6 May 2015
Syrian refugees walk the street at Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan, on 14 March. Jordan officials report international aid continues to fall short of what the country needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees. (photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)
Situation in Ukraine “deteriorating” (Reuters) Five Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and 12 injured over the past 24 hours despite a ceasefire deal, Ukraine’s military said on Wednesday, describing a worsening situation in separatist eastern territories. The deaths came ahead of a meeting later on Wednesday of envoys from Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE rights watchdog and pro-Russian separatists. They are expected to discuss how to shore up the peace accord they agreed in Minsk, Belarus, in February. “In the past 24 hours the situation in the conflict zone deteriorated. The intensity of attacks is not falling,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said, accusing the separatists of using weapons outlawed under the ceasefire deal...
Jordan faces shortfall in funds to help refugees (Catholic Herald) International aid continues to fall short of what Jordan needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees, Jordanian officials reported, saying the number represents the equivalent of the United States hosting 60 million refugees.
With no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, officials are calling the situation critical. So far this year, Jordan has received only 7.2 percent of $2.9 billion needed for services to Syrian refugees and host communities...
Massacre site in Iraq becomes a monument to suffering (The New York Times) The concrete platform at the river’s edge is festooned with flowers and streaked with blood. Along a back wall are photographs taken from a video of the horror that unfolded here last year: a procession of Shiite men, shot in the head one by one by Islamic State fighters and shoved into the waters of the Tigris. The riverbank has become a memorial of the massacre and a site of Shiite pilgrimage, already taking a prominent place in Iraq’s ledger of sectarian atrocities. In all, roughly 1,700 Shiite military personnel from the Camp Speicher base are believed to have been methodically gunned down by the Sunni extremists at Saddam Hussein’s old palace complex in Tikrit in June...
UN begins talks with Syrians to find “common ground” (BBC) The UN has begun consultations with Syrian government and opposition officials as it seeks to find enough common ground to restart peace talks. Special envoy Staffan de Mistura said more than 40 groups had been invited to attend one-on-one meetings over the next five to six weeks. Iran and Turkey have also been invited, but jihadist militant groups have not. Mr. de Mistura described it as a stock-taking process, saying there would be no big roundtable discussions. The last round of peace talks in Geneva collapsed in early 2014 with the government refusing to discuss opposition demands...
Syrian artist shows pain of war (CNS) The sad realities of Syria’s civil war permeate the paintings of Essa Neima, a 34-year-old Syrian national. At a recent exhibit, his oil on acrylic works ranged from depictions of damaged church and mosque mosaics, to a broken icon of Mary and a refugee woman forced into servitude by the need to survive. Most of the paintings were strewn with the deep red color of blood. “It is like treasure ... covered by blood because (of) what’s happening now, the sad events happening in Syria,” Neima told Catholic News Service in Washington, thousands of miles from his country, where conflict has killed nearly 200,000 people and dispersed about 10 million others, according to U.N. Estimates...
If borders were opened, “100,000 people would leave Gaza” (Al Jazeera) Electricity runs only six to eight hours a day in the Gaza Strip. More than 160,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in last summer’s war with Israel, and 100,000 people are still homeless. International donors pledged to give $3.5 billion in reconstruction funds in October, but barely a quarter of that has materialized so far. Israel’s economic blockade continues, Palestinian leaders are divided, houses lie in ruin, and youths feel unable to escape from or change the situation...
5 May 2015
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri visits with Iraqi refugees in Erbil. (photo: John E. Kozar)
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar is on a pastoral visit to Iraq, along with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
Details of the trip, from VIS:
The cardinal, in his second trip to Iraq, brought Pope Francis’ blessing to Iraqi Christians and transmitted the acknowledgement and encouragement of the Authorities for their work in the difficult current context of Iraq in favour of Christians, other minorities and those who suffer as a result of the violence. From 1 to 3 May Cardinal Sandri visited Baghdad where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph and lunched with refugees assisted by various ecclesial institutions. In Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, he met with the Roaco delegation which is planning aid projects in various areas of pastoral life and in the assistance of refugees.
In his final address to the bishops in Erbil, the cardinal referred to the “signs of light” he had seen in the Churches of Iraq during his visit: “The liturgy, the hymns, the trust in Mary, but above all the splendour of charity, through ordinary works and those linked to the various forms of welcome and pastoral assistance to displaced and persecuted people. I have encountered first hand the heroic dedication of the many priests who are truly good pastors, who do not flee and who stay beside their flock; I have been moved by the profound communion that precedes any theological discussion — although the latter is necessary — and any other form of ecumenical agreement, when priests of different Christian churches wish well to each other and, along with the laypeople, organise aid activities for displaced persons, or guide educational paths in schools and parishes. It is also good to see the collaboration that the various agencies of the Roaco have offered in the planning and implementation phases for the good of all of you.”...
...Cardinal Sandri concluded his address by invoking the protection of Our Lady and of St. Peter for Pope Francis, “always so close to the Christians of the Middle East and to all those who are persecuted,” and for their Beatitudes the Patriarchs Louis Raphael I Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Ignatius Joseph III Younan of the Syro-Catholic Church.
To help those seeking to rebuild their lives in Iraq, and support CNEWA’s mission there, please visit this giving page — and keep our brothers and sisters in Iraq in your prayers!
5 May 2015
In this image from April, a man walks past the rubble of a building following reported shelling by Syrian government forces in the Bab al-Hadid neighborhood of the northern city of Aleppo. Aleppo has been devastated by fighting since rebel fighters seized its eastern half in 2012, setting up a front line that carves through its historic heart. (photo: ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
“Crimes against humanity” reported in Aleppo (AFP) Syrian government forces are committing “crimes against humanity” by indiscriminately bombing Aleppo, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, as it also criticized rebels for abuses including “war crimes.” In a new report, the rights watchdog said “relentless” government aerial bombardment of Syria’s former economic powerhouse had forced many residents to “eke out an existence underground.” It slammed the “horrendous war crimes and other abuses in the city by government forces and armed opposition groups on a daily basis.” “Some of the government’s actions in Aleppo amount to crimes against humanity,” Amnesty said...
Hundreds of Yazidis reportedly killed near Mosul (BBC) Several hundred Yazidi captives have been killed in Iraq by Islamic State (IS) militants west of Mosul, Yazidi and Iraqi officials say. A statement from the Yazidi Progress Party said 300 captives were killed on Friday in the Tal Afar district near the city. Iraqi Vice-President Osama al-Nujaifi described the reported deaths as “horrific and barbaric...”
Catholics join efforts to save Yazidi (Catholic Register) For Ghina Al-Sewaidi — lawyer, Muslim and Iraqi-Canadian — the correct word to describe Islamic State attacks on Yazidi and Mandaean people is genocide. The correct response is to sponsor the survivors through Canada’s refugee system. Toronto Catholics have joined with Al-Sewaidi to help bring Yazidi and Mandaean refugees to Canada. Al-Sewaidi has teamed up with Toronto Police Inspector Chuck Konkel, the Office of Refugees, Archdiocese of Toronto and the 18 volunteer police chaplains in Toronto. Catholic parishes, such as Konkel’s St. Anselm’s, have stepped up to support the sponsorship efforts. “We can’t bring everybody here, but if we bring one or two families to start with, that would really be a start for us,” said Al-Sewaidi. “The Iraqi people, putting the government aside, they help each other from whichever ethnic minority they are, from whatever religion you are...”
Patriarch praises pope, criticizes Greek Catholics (Interfax) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has praised Vatican’s position on the Ukrainian crisis but condemned the activities in Ukraine of the followers of the Greek Catholic Church (Uniates). “Pope Francis and the Holy See’s State secretary have taken a considered position on the situation in Ukraine, avoiding unilateral assessments and calling for an end to the fratricidal war,” the patriarch said at a ceremony on Thursday which saw him receiving honorary doctorate from the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy...
Vatican releases details for Jubilee of Mercy (VIS) This morning in the Holy See Press Office, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, and Msgr. Graham Bell presented the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (8 December 2015 to 20 November 2016). The archbishop began, “The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which continues be the programmatic outline for the pontificate of Pope Francis, offers a meaningful expression of the very essence of the Extraordinary Jubilee announced on 11 April...
4 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Russian Orthodox
The Good Shepherd Sisters’ convent in Suez still displays heavy damage from the
August 2013 fire. (photo: David Degner)
Jahd Khalil writes about efforts to rebuild religious institutions in Suez in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. Below, he offers personal impressions from his trip there last winter.
Last Christmas season there were plenty of images in press coverage of Egypt of congregations praying in burned-out churches, but I only experienced the atmosphere and feelings of it on this recent trip to Suez. It was a few days before Epiphany, and it brought to light the gravity of the situation for this congregation and the implications of all the little things that were lost.
Franciscan Father Gabrail Bakheet was dressed in his white liturgical robes. While giving us a tour of the vestry, he pointed out that the diversity in vestments meant that so many had to be replaced. The congregation also had to sing hymns without hymnals. Christmas is one of those times when you reflect on family, friends and community, but there were so few people in the church that the hymns only highlighted that the scarcity of people. The many who once might have been signing these hymns just weren’t there. The US invasion of Iraq, the civil war in Syria, and general unrest across the Middle East have made religious life more difficult for Christians and other minorities. It felt quite lonely in that burned-out, cold church.
One thing that struck me while reporting this story is the amount of faith Christians have put in their government’s support for their communities. The Maspiro massacre — in which 28 people, mostly Christians, died while protesting for religious freedom — is not a distant memory. But there has been a willingness to overlook it in order to try and preserve what is left of the long Christian tradition in Egypt.
As they sat alone in their makeshift chapel, with seemingly nothing but their faith, Sister Amany quoted Psalm 127 to Sister Mariam. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain,” she said. “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.”
I really admired the sisters’ perseverance and good spirits in the face of adversity and isolation. Here they were in one of the most densely populated countries on earth, but still alone in many ways.
Read more about life in Suez in “Out of the Ashes.”
4 May 2015
A Caritas volunteer interviews Anastasiya Stulova in the city of Sviatogorsk. The impact of the conflict in Ukraine has been devastating, leaving many families displaced. To learn more, read “Casualties of War” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)