The Syriac Catholic patriarch said he was horrified to see widespread devastation and what he called “ghost towns” during a recent visit to northern Iraq.
Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan wrote in an email to Catholic News Service that there was little left in some of the communities that he toured 27-29 November and that “the emptiness of the streets except for military people ... the devastation and burned-out houses and churches” was shocking.
About 100,000 Christians — among them more than 60,000 Syriac Catholics — were expelled from the Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014 as the militants campaigned to expand their reach into Iraq.
Patriarch Younan also called for understanding from the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump about the plight and ordeal of all minorities, including Christians affected by violence in the region.
The patriarch told CNS about “walking through the Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Karamles and witnessing the extent of devastation as if we had entered ghost towns!”
Graffiti and inscriptions “expressing hatred toward Christian symbols and doctrine were seen everywhere” on walls near streets, outside and inside houses and churches, he wrote.
“Aside from the looting, destruction of and damage to buildings, we discovered that the terrorists, out of hatred to the Christian faith, set fire to most of the buildings, including churches, schools, kindergartens and hospitals,” the patriarch’s message said, noting that only Christian properties were targeted.
In Qaraqosh — once inhabited by more than 50,000 Christians — the patriarch celebrated the Eucharist 28 November “on an improvised small altar” in the incinerated sanctuary of the vandalized Church of the Immaculate Conception. That church, which had 2,200 seats before its desecration by Islamic State, was built by parishioners in the 1930’s.
Few people could attend the liturgy, among them a few clergy and some armed youth and media representatives, the patriarch said.
“In my short homily, I just wanted to strengthen their faith in the redeemer’s altar and cross, although both were half broken behind us. I reminded them that we Christians are the descendants of martyrs and confessors, with a long history dating back to the evangelization of the apostles,” he wrote.
“I had the intention after its restoration five years ago, and still have it, to ask the Holy Father, the pope, to name this church as a minor basilica,” the patriarch added.
In addition to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, all of the churches the patriarch's delegation visited, including St. Behnam and St. Sarah Monastery, which dates to the fourth century, sustained significant damage or were destroyed.
In opening the trip 27 November in Erbil, which escaped being occupied by the militants, Patriarch Younan celebrated Mass for more than 800 displaced people at Our Lady of Peace Syriac Catholic Church. Located in the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, where many of those uprooted from the Ninevah Plain sought refuge, the church recently opened to serve refugees.
The patriarch also said he met with the faith community, religious leaders and nongovernmental organizations to discuss the future of Christianity in northern Iraq.
Based on “what happened in recent times,” the patriarch noted, “it was the overall opinion that none would dare to return, rebuild and stay in the homeland, unless a safe zone for the Christian communities in the Plain of Ninevah is guaranteed.”
He called for a “stable, law-abiding and strong government” to support the establishment of an eventual self-administrative province under the central government of Iraq.
“I therefore reiterate what I have been saying for years. We, Christians in Iraq and Syria, feel abandoned, even betrayed, by the Western politicians of recent times,” Patriarch Younan said.
“We have been sold out for oil and forgotten because of our small number compared to the ‘Islamic Ummah’ (Islamic nation) in which we have lived for centuries.”
The patriarch urged the “so-called ‘civilized world’ to uphold its principles and to seriously defend" the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he described as “vital for our survival.”
“It is time to stand up and condemn those regimes that still discriminate against non-Muslim communities, with (their) excuses such as ... ‘our law, our education and governing system’ are based on our ‘particularities of culture, history and religion,’” the patriarch continued.
Patriarch Younan expressed his “strong hope” that the Trump administration “will understand our plight and the ordeal of all minorities, including Christians.”
“It is time that the United States be respected around the world,” and most particularly in the Middle East, as “a nation of hope and freedom and not a land of opportunism.”
5 December 2016
In this image from Sunday, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill consecrates a prominent new church in Paris, Saint Trinity, on the banks of the Seine. The complex containing the church is owned by the Russian government and includes a cultural center and a school.
Read more and see more images here.
(photo: Dominique Boutin/TASS via Getty Images)
5 December 2016
In the video above, the Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches discusses the struggle of Christians in the Middle East today, noting that Christians have always survived persecution and adding, “We have to have hope.” (video: Rome Reports)
A stall in the battle for Mosul: ‘We are fighting the devil himself’ (The Guardian) The startling progress of the first few weeks of the campaign to take Iraq’s second city, the terror group’s last urban stronghold in Iraq, has given way to a numbing reality: Isis will not surrender Mosul, and Iraq’s battered military will struggle to take it. Since Iraqi forces entered Gogali, a light industrial neighborhood, in mid-November, the advance has slowed. “When we started, we were talking weeks,” said Hussein. “Now, we hope it will be by early in the new year. But these guys are not cowards. They kill as easy as they breathe...”
Russian field hospital hit in Aleppo (AP) Rebel shelling of the Syrian government-held part of Aleppo killed a Russian nurse in a makeshift Russian hospital in the city on Monday while the Defense Ministry in Moscow said a Russian fighter jet crashed into the Mediterranean Sea after returning from a sortie over Syria. The developments were a blow to Russia, which has been one of the staunchest supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s bitter civil war, now in its sixth year...
Christian village attacked in Egypt (Assyrian International News Agency) Muslim radicals attacked a Coptic Christian village in Upper Egypt last week over rumors that a community center and a meeting hall is being converted into a church. A group of Muslims burned down the community center in Al-Nagameesh village in Sohag Governate and moved to the village to loot the houses and the businesses owned by the Copts, Morning Star News reported...
Orthodox patriarch: ‘Amoris Laetitia’ recalls the mercy of God (CNS) Knowing the debate surrounding Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said the document “first and foremost recalls the mercy and compassion of God and not just moral norms and canonical rules...”
Patriarch Gregorios III visits parish in London (ByzCath.org) His Beatitude visited the Melkite parish in London, where he served the Divine Liturgy. Concelebrating were the parish priest, Father Shafiq Abouzayd, the assistant priest Father Robert Gibbons, together with Deacon Richard Downer. His Beatitude preached on the need to remain faithful to the Eastern Christian heritage, as light comes from the East. He also congratulated clergy of the Melkite Church and members of the congregation whose name day falls on this day or in succeeding days: so all those named for St. John of Damascus, St. Barbara and St. Nicholas...
2 December 2016
On 27 November, Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun baptized 300 people in the Eparchy of Bhair Dar-Dessie, the newest jurisdiction in Ethiopia. (photo: Vatican Radio)
The bishop of the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessie baptized 300 catechumens among the people of Gumuz, in Banshagul Gumuz Regional State, this week, on the Feast of the Miraculous Medal, 27 November. Many of the newly baptized converted from local traditional religions to Catholicism. Most of the catechumens are from a place known as Banush, a very remote area located 600 km (about 370 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa.
At the the people’s request, Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun, of the Eparch of Bahir Dar-Dessie, blessed and erected a cross and a bell on the future site of a church. Another cross was placed at the community’s cemetery as a sign of a new Christian community. The Bishop with the help of six priests then baptized the 300 new Christians who comprised old, young, men and women, as well as some infants.
In his homily, the bishop said that the day was a joyous one.
“God is Great, and God is a Father to all of us; we say the ‘Our Father’ prayer here and throughout the world and this proves that we are all children of one God, who created everyone equally and with the same human dignity. Today when you receive this great Sacrament of Baptism, you become sons and daughters of God, people of God and members of the Church. This brings great joy in heaven and great joy on earth for the entire Church,” said Bishop Lisane-Christos, congratulating the new followers of Christ.
The bishop also noted that the community was evangelized by a local young man named Takel. It was Takel who first brought the request of the village to the Church’s attention, asking the Church authorities to bring the light of Christ to his community in the remote area of Banush.
The Bishop stressed the importance of continued evangelization in the area saying there still many people who have not been as lucky as the Banush community.
“The testimony of one young believer and the diligent efforts of the pastoral agents of the Catholic Church have brought 300 more children of God home. However, there are still more of our brothers and sisters who have not yet received the Good News of the Lord, and with God’s grace we shall continue to shine the light of our Lord and spread the Good News,” the bishop said.
The newly baptized Christians celebrated by lighting candles as a sign of the light of Christ shining in them. They sang in the local language: “We know what we trust in.” The ceremony was attended by families of the baptized, the clergy, religious men and women, catechists and the faithful from different parishes of diocese.
The Eparch of Bahir Dar-Dessie is the youngest Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Currently, there are more than 500 catechumens in neighboring villages who are eagerly waiting to be baptized. The Catholic Church first went to the Gumuz people 15 years ago. Three Comboni sisters planted the first seed of faith: Sister Jamilety, Sister Tilda, and Sister Bertila. The sisters first arrived in Mandura district and begun the work of evangelization.
2 December 2016
In this image from May, Syrian children from Aleppo play in a shanty near Gaziantep, Turkey. Turkey’s foreign minister on 2 December called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria.
(photo: CNS/Sedat Suna, EPA)
Turkish foreign minister calls for ceasefire in Syria (Reuters) Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria on Friday, describing the situation in Aleppo as critical and saying that President Bashar al-Assad was unfit to rule. Asked about Assad at a news conference in Beirut, Cavusoglu said it was undeniable that the Syrian leader was responsible for 600,000 deaths and that somebody with that record should not be running a country...
Report: Iraqi commanders examined strategy shift to avert Mosul war of attrition (Reuters) Facing brutal urban warfare in Mosul and with their push slowed by the presence of one million residents, Iraqi commanders examined changing strategy last week to help civilians leave to give the army a free hand to strike Islamic State fighters. The proposal, a sign of frustration at slow progress in the six-week campaign against Islamic State in Mosul, was ultimately dismissed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his generals, military sources told Reuters in interviews...
Germany pledges millions for Lebanon refugees (The Daily Star) German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Friday pledged $10.65 (10 million euros) in aid to Lebanon to help it cope with the Syrian refugee crisis. “We are ready to offer Lebanon the required financial assistance to help it with the financial crisis caused by the Syrian refugees,” Steinmeier said during a news conference with caretaker FM Gebran Bassil...
Metropolitan Tikhon: Orthodoxy in United States attracting converts (Interfax) His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, arrived in Russia to celebrate the 70th birthday of Patriarch Kirill and All Russia. Anyway, he found some time to meet with an Interfax-Religion correspondent and share his opinion about the recent presidential campaign in the United States, ongoing crisis in Ukraine and tell some interesting facts about Orthodoxy in America...
Pax Christi pushes for new Israeli-Palestinian peace process (CNS) Pax Christi International has called for a new peace process to end violence among Israelis and Palestinians and assure fundamental human rights as defined by international law...
Gaza teenager finds way to generate electricity from candles (RT.com) A teenage girl in Gaza has found a resourceful way of overcoming chronic power shortages, by constructing a device that can generate electricity from the heat of candles, New China TV reports. Faced with regular blackouts, Shahd Abu Lebda, 16, told New China TV that she “depends on the principle that ‘a person in need will find a way’ — which pushed me towards inventing a device that generates electric charges for smart mobile phones from the energy of heat that comes from candles...”
1 December 2016
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri cares for children who have been abandoned or even discarded
in Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
For decades, Sister Lutgarda Camilleri, F.C.J. has been a tireless and devoted caretaker for children in Ethiopia — a true hero who has provided encouragement and love for those most in need at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
When Sister Christian Molidor visited the home in 2001, she described the daunting task facing the sister when she first took over the home:
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus was asked if her community would assume responsibility for the orphanage. Sister Lutgarda was told the sisters had two options: “Take care of the children or throw them back on the streets.”
If Kidane Mehret did not exist, chances are many of the children would have been aborted or died from exposure. The Franciscan Sisters receive what the government considers “reject children.”
Besides caring for the children, the sisters also provide meals twice a week for more than 150 displaced persons from the surrounding area, mostly women and children. Many of the displaced women reciprocate, working in the kitchen, preparing food and serving.
How do the children come to Kidane Mehret? They are often illegitimate. In Ethiopia, the shame of bearing an illegitimate child remains strong. Many children are just left at the gate of the orphanage. Sister Lutgarda told me about a small, very ill boy who was thrown over the fence into the garden. When the gardener went to work the next morning, his first thought was to scold the children for throwing their clothes in the garden. Then the tiny boy started to cry. He was taken into the orphanage. After much difficulty, Sister Lutgarda received government certification for the boy — without such certification, he cannot be adopted.
Over a decade later, the home is still providing sanctuary — and hope. And Sister Lutgarda is continuing her mission. In 2013, journalist Don Duncan interviewed her for ONE:
ONE: How many children does the orphanage house currently?
SL: At the moment, we have the lowest number ever: 80. The government policy has changed. All abandoned children must go to government orphanages now, and no longer come directly to us. I think the policy change is due to child trafficking.
The government in Addis Ababa gives the older children to us, especially if they are sick. They come to the sisters because no one else wants them. It is not easy. Many of the older orphans have contracted H.I.V.
ONE: Is H.I.V. — the virus that causes AIDS — an issue for many of your children?
SL: The majority of our children lost their parents to AIDS-related infections. Some were lucky enough not to contract the virus themselves, but others were not so lucky.
Every month, the H.I.V.-positive children get a checkup. It is a government requirement. They have a blood count and according to their count they are prescribed medicine. Some do not have to take medicine yet, but they still have to go for the checkup. We have others that are full blown and are on full medication.
Here at the orphanage, I do not think the children lack anything that most children have, except one very important thing: family. We tell them that we are a big family, but we cannot give them the same individual attention that a mother and a father can give. We try to love them. We try to educate them. We care for them — but as you can see, there are many of them and few of us.
...I know the situation around us is not easy, but God is always helping us in other ways.
Surely, the world needs more heroes like Sister Lutgarda. CNEWA is proud to be supporting her in her mission. Visit this link to learn how you can support her, too.
1 December 2016
This image from 2013 shows Nuhad George Ghazala, who left Baghdad in 2010 with her husband and four children. She’s among many who have tried to make a new start in Jordan. Read about them in Out of Iraq from the Spring 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
1 December 2016
Syrians living in Aleppo flee the city on 1 December 2016. Some 100 Syrian refugees who have made their way to Lebanon are set to arrive in Rome on 2 December through a “humanitarian corridor” program. (photo: Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Humanitarian corridor to Rome brings hope to Syrian refugees (Vatican Radio) One hundred Syrian refugees from Lebanon are set to arrive at Fiumincino Airport in Rome on 2 December through a special “humanitarian corridor” program, bringing the total intake to five-hundred refugees since the start of the project...
Iraqi Shi’ite militias could prove a bigger test than Mosul (Reuters) Baghdad is currently battling hardline Sunni group Islamic State in the northern city of Mosul. In that struggle, government troops are fighting alongside the country’s Shi’ite militias, as well as Kurdish and U.S. forces. But the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi knows that even if it defeats Islamic State it needs to bring the Shi’ite militias under greater control...
European leaders gather to discuss Christian persecution (CNA) European leaders gathered this week at a conference in Vienna to discuss Christian persecution and its resounding effect on Europe, particularly emphasizing the need to seriously address religious discrimination and genocide around the world...
Jordanian Instagram account gives Syrian refugees a voice (Al Arabiya) Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the total number of refugees registered by UNHCR in Jordan stands at 655,833, as of November 2016. Although the extensive number of Syrian refugees has placed tremendous pressure on Jordan’s economy and infrastructure, many Jordanians are working to support these refugees. Determined to provide a voice for Syrian refugees in Jordan and raise awareness about their ongoing struggles, Jordanians Haneen Diri and Rana AlTarawneh created an Instagram account @Lifeofarefugenius to achieve this goal. Diri and AlTarawneh photograph Syrian women, men and children and post their experiences on Instagram, depicting the personal accounts and stories of a wide range of refugees...
Ethiopian-Israelis celebrate Sigd Day in Jerusalem (The Jerusalem Post) For more than 2,500 years, the Sigd was observed in Ethiopia as a day of fasting and prayer for the return to Zion, held on a mountaintop symbolizing Mount Sinai. Jews prayed to one day live in Jerusalem, a city they believed was paved with gold and filled with God’s light and powerful presence. On Wednesday, thousands of Ethiopian Israelis from across the country gathered on a picturesque promenade in the capital’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood, where multiple generations of men, women and children celebrated their triumphant achievement...
30 November 2016
In this picture from September, Pope Francis is greeted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano handout via Reuters)
Today, 30 November, marks the feast of St. Andrew, the man traditionally held to be the founder of the See of Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
At the conclusion of his general audience today, Pope Francis sent special greetings to “the beloved Patriarch Bartholomew” — the successor of Peter extending his warm wishes to the successor of Peter’s brother and doing so, as he put it, “in a spirit of genuine fraternity.”
Vatican Radio notes:
Pope Francis expressed his desire to be united to the patriarch and to the Church of Constantinople, offering them his “best wishes for all possible goods, for all the blessings of the Lord, and a warm embrace.”
A delegation from the Holy See, bearing a message from Pope Francis, is in Istanbul for a visit to the patriarchate on the Apostle’s feast day. The customary visit is reciprocated each year on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome.
The Holy See delegation was led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Cardinal Koch was accompanied by the council’s secretary, Bishop Brian Farrell, and the under-secretary, Monsignor Andrea Palmieri. The delegation was joined in Constantinople by the apostolic nuncio in Turkey, Archbishop Paul Russell.
The delegation took part in the solemn Divine Liturgy offered by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, in the Patriarchal Church of St. George at the Phanar. They also met with the patriarch, as well as with the synodal commission on relations with the Catholic Church.
Following the Divine Liturgy, Cardinal Koch delivered an autograph message of Pope Francis to the ecumenical patriarch, accompanied by a gift.
In the message, Pope Francis said the annual exchange of delegations is “a visible sign of the profound bonds that already unite us” as well as “an expression of our yearning for ever deeper communion.” In the journey toward full communion, he said, “we are sustained by the intercession not only of our patron saints, but by the array of martyrs from every age.”
Pope Francis also noted “the strong commitment” to re-establishing Christian unity expressed by the Great and Holy Council held in Crete in June. The pope noted that relations between the churches have, at times, been marked by conflicts; “only prayer, common good works, and dialogue,” he said, “can enable us to overcome division and grow closer to one another.”
The Holy Father also wrote about the importance of theological dialogue, and especially the shared reflection on the relationship between synodality and primacy in the first millennium. This reflection, he said, “can offer a sure foundation for discerning ways in which primacy may be exercised in the church when all Christians of East and West are finally reconciled.”
Finally, Pope Francis fondly recalled his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew and other Christian leaders and representatives of various world religions in Assisi. The Assisi gathering, he said, was a joyful opportunity to deepen our friendship, which finds expression in a shared vision regarding the great questions that affect the life of the church and of all society. He concluded his message with an assurance of prayer and best wishes for the ecumenical patriarch, and all those entrusted to his spiritual care.
You can read the full text of the pope’s message at this link.
29 November 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
Residents flee the Al Moyaser neighborhood of Aleppo to a government-held area on 29 November 2016. (photo: Jawad al Rifai/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Report: Israeli airstrikes hit Syria outside Damascus (The Guardian) Israeli jets fired two missiles from Lebanese airspace towards the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, early on Wednesday, the official Syrian news agency said, in a strike on an unknown target that caused loud explosions…
U.N. to hold emergency meeting on Aleppo’s ‘descent into hell’ (CNN) The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday on the dire humanitarian situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for the meeting on Tuesday…
Mosul food, water reserves dwindling (Reuters) The United Nations issued a fresh warning on Wednesday about the humanitarian situation in eastern Mosul where the U.S.-backed Iraqi army is locked in heavy fighting with ISIS militants. More than six weeks into the offensive against ISIS’ last major city stronghold in Iraq, the army is trying to dislodge militants dug in among civilians in the eastern districts, the only side Iraqi troops have been able to breach…
Lebanon stops building wall around parts of Palestinian refugee camp (The Jerusalem Post) The Lebanese Army informed the joint Palestinian leadership in Lebanon on Friday that it has halted construction of a cement wall around parts of the Ain al Hilweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon, the country’s largest, following popular protests…
Peace talks on Ukraine end without agreement (Reuters) Four-way talks on ending a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine finished without a breakthrough on Tuesday, with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declaring that “lip service” statements were not enough to achieve lasting peace…
Franciscans issue call for children to pray for peace in the Holy Land (OFM.org) “Dear Brothers and Sisters, May the Lord give you peace! For a long time, as Friars Minor, we have been concerned about the situation that our brothers are experiencing together with the Christians and the entire population of Syria. Not long ago, we called on the international community to intensify its efforts to stop the war and the suffering of the civilian population and to make every effort to achieve peace…”
Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Ukraine Holy Land