6 August 2015
Iraqi refugees gather outside their temporary dwellings in Erbil. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
It was one year ago today that ISIS launched its greatest offensive through northern Iraq, displacing tens of thousands of Christians. Don Duncan writes about that displacement and a recent visit to Erbil in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. He offers some personal impressions below.
On this, my second trip to Iraqi Kurdistan to cover the situation of displaced Christians there, I was struck by the dynamics of displacement and the ceaseless nature of human resilience.
During my first trip, last September, the Christians who had fled the sudden onslaught of ISIS through their villages and territory just weeks prior were all heaving in a sort of mass trauma. The harsh reality of homelessness and displacement was beginning to settle in in painful waves. All this was happening as people found themselves and their families sleeping in churchyards without shelter, and later in basements of unfinished buildings, separated only by sheets of tarpaulin.
Disease was rife. Anguish was rife. Panic was rife.
The usual pillars of society — church, school, hospital and childcare — had all vanished and providers of care such as nuns, priests, teachers, and medics were all scrambling to simply stanch the crisis enough so as to find more sustainable solutions for the overwrought population.
What I have found on my return this second time to Erbil is a soul-warming display of resilience. All the sites of hellish living conditions I saw in September lie empty. Most families are now either housed in rented houses or in emergency housing trailers, much like the ones used by FEMA in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck. While living conditions are less than ideal, the edge of panic and woe seems to have lifted somewhat. The population, less in shock than before, is able to go about making their lives better. Nowhere is this clearer than in the infrastructure of care that has developed around the population over the past year.
Whereas a very basic level of emergency healthcare had been established by September last, in the form of three CNEWA-donated pre-fab cabins, huge gaps lay in provision of basic services for a population badly in need.
Now, in big measure because of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena, the complex of schooling, healthcare, childcare and orphanage infrastructure that existed around these Christians at home, prior to their expulsion by ISIS, his being progressively restored. Temporary schools and clinics have been built and set running. An orphanage and kindergartens have been established. The community is beginning to display some of the daily rhythms of normality again: kids going off to school, mom cleaning the house or preparing dinner for when they come home.
These are the vital signs of survival, it seemed to me, of a community in peril. A community that is able to rebuild itself from the ashes is, in essence, a community that will endure and persist and this fact has brought a strong sense of hope to the displaced Christians that was simply not present last September, when so many of the people I interviewed saw the events unfurling as the last chapters in the story of Christians in Iraq.
I should stress that while the situation has improved and that this improvement is strength-giving, the overall situation is still far from ideal. The male population is still chronically under-employed, domestic tensions continue to flare in households, living conditions are still cramped and diseases are still rampant. While a vital measure of dignity has been restored, the displaced Christians are still in chronic need of yet more dignity in their living situations.
Now, it seems, the displaced Christians are getting hope and strength from the specter of the resurrection of the infrastructure of community. Many are emboldened to carry on, to move on if they have to. Or, they hope, to move back to their own towns one day and start the reconstruction of their lost homes and communities there.
A year into this crisis, the need remains great. To support those struggling to rebuild their lives in Iraq, visit our giving page. And please remember to keep these people in your prayers.
6 August 2015
Continuing a tradition stretching back to the first millennium, Orthodox Christians gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Holy Saturday in Jerusalem. (photo: Paul Souders)
Almost half of the earth’s 6.8 billion people associate Jerusalem with the Divine. Christians identify Jerusalem with Jesus, revere it as the place of his passion, death and resurrection, and celebrate it as the birthplace of the church.
From the beginning, Christians have called Jerusalem the “Holy City,” a title that reveals the spiritual and political paradoxes plaguing it. Revered as a shining city on the hill, Jerusalem has come to represent conflict as it lies at the heart of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.
The city’s chief church, the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Jerusalem, has not remained above the fray. For centuries, this smallest of the ancient patriarchal churches of the East has weathered instability. Today, it includes fewer than 130,000 people — Arabs primarily — scattered throughout the Holy City, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula.
In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, an Orthodox priest pauses to pray during Holy Week. (photo: Paul Souders)
According to ancient accounts, the apostle James “the Just” guided the church of Jerusalem after Pentecost, and was stoned to death about eight years before the Roman destruction of the Temple in the year 70. After his death, 15 bishops “of the circumcision” guided the mother church until the Romans nearly annihilated the Jews and leveled what remained of Jerusalem in the year 135.
The mother church carried on, keeping alive the deeds and words of Jesus and, in 451, the fathers of the Council of Chalcedon recognized Jerusalem as a patriarchate, according its bishop a special status after Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch. The Liturgy of St. James, which developed during this period, is considered the oldest complete form of the Eucharist to have survived and is used on feast days by the churches of the Byzantine and Syriac traditions.
Pilgrims from throughout Christendom flocked to the shrines of the Holy Land even after the Muslim Arabs occupied Jerusalem in 637. The patriarch surrendered it to Omar, the successor of Muhammad, provided he left its churches untouched and allowed its Christians of all rites to worship unhindered. The caliph agreed and received the keys to the city. Though more than 13 centuries old, the Covenant of Omar remains an important legal document, outlining the rights of Christians in a Muslim state.
Centuries later, responding to calls for help from the Byzantine emperor, Crusaders from the West seized Jerusalem, returning Christian sovereignty to the city. But the Crusaders installed a Latin patriarch and displaced the incumbent Byzantine patriarch, a Greek, whose line descended from the apostolic period. Relations deteriorated further when the Latin patriarch forbade the celebration of Eastern Christian liturgies in the Holy Sepulchre. These actions further widened the rift between the “Orthodox” East and the “Catholic” West even after the Crusaders kingdom collapsed and the city reverted to Islamic control.
A pilgrim lights candles in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (photo: Paul Souders)
In 1852, the Ottoman Turkish sultan issued an order delineating the rights of the churches in the Holy Sepulchre and other holy places. He confirmed Greek Orthodox control, but granted concessions to the Armenians and the Franciscans. Scrupulous adherence to this “Status Quo” continues, but this fidelity has paralyzed dialogue and hampered restoration efforts.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has eroded the Christian community, especially the dominant Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Jerusalem. Christians once led civic, cultural and intellectual life. Today, their influence is limited, even in the centers of Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Ramallah. In 1948, about 20 percent of the people in what is today Israel and Palestine was Christian, mostly Orthodox. Today, fewer than 2 percent remain. And whereas the patriarchal church of Jerusalem once commanded the allegiance of most Christians in the Holy Land, today only about half remain in the Orthodox Church.
The revival of the Orthodox churches in Romania and Russia has bolstered the patriarchate of Jerusalem and heightened its profile, but its ultimate fate depends on a just political resolution between Israelis and Palestinians.
Click here to read the complete profile.
6 August 2015
One year ago today, 6 August 2014, ISIS stormed through the cities and villages of northern Iraq, sending thousands literally running for their lives. Among them: the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. Here, they are shown setting up housekeeping among others who have been displaced in Erbil, Iraq. Read more about the resilience and grace of the Iraqi people — one year after the invasion of ISIS — in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
6 August 2015
In this image from May, displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community, who fled violence between ISIS and Peshmerga fighters in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, are seen at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in an area near the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk.
(photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Remembering the invasion of Nineveh, one year later (Fides) “It was horrible. I will never forget the terror imprinted on the face of tens of thousands of people. They were convinced that Isis would have killed them.” Rami, 22 years old, is one of the Christian refugees welcomed at the Mar Elias center, a refugee camp run by the Church in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. In a statement sent to Agenzia Fides, the young man reports on that tragic night between 6 and 7 August 2014, when he and his family had to flee from Qaraqosh together with other 60,000 Christians...
Struggle continues for Yazidis (Al Monitor) Faced with the hardships of living as internally displaced persons and scarred as a community by the brutality of ISIS, many Yazidis, especially young people, appear to have lost hope in having a future in Iraq. As a result they are migrating north toward Europe. The preferred destination for many is Germany, where there is a large Yazidi community estimated at around 60,000...
Russia invites Syrian opposition coalition to Moscow (Vatican Radio) Russia has invited the main Syrian opposition group to Moscow as part of international efforts to end the civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people. The invitation also comes as Croatia is anxiously awaiting news of a kidnapped citizen threatened with death by the so-called Islamic State...
Pope creates exarchate for Syro-Malabar Catholics in Canada (CNS) Pope Francis has established an apostolic exarchate, the precursor to a diocese, for Syro-Malabar Catholics in Canada and has named their current Toronto-based chaplain, Father Jose Kalluvelil, a bishop and head of the exarchate. Announcing the appointment on 6 August, the Vatican said about 9,000 faithful of the India-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church live in Canada. They are served by 15 priests, three of whom belong to religious orders. The new exarchate will be based in Mississauga, Ontario, near Toronto...
Pope approves new bishop for Adilabad eparchy of Syro-Malabar Church (Vatican Radio) The Holy Father has approved the election of Rev. Dr. Antony Prince Panengaden, until now vicar general of the Eparchy of Adilabad and pastor of the Cathedral Parish, as the Bishop of the same eparchy of the Syro-Malabar Church, in India. The approval follows the Holy Father’s acceptance of the resignation presented by Mons. Joseph Kunnath, C.M.I. from the pastoral governance of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Adilabad, according to canon 210 §§ 1-2 of the Code of Canon law of the Oriental Churches...
5 August 2015
Children relax during a break at the kindergarten run by the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, Erbil. (photo: Don Duncan)
Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS — an event that displaced tens of thousands of Iraqis, many of them children. The aftershocks are still being felt.
The Summer 2015 edition of ONE has an extensive, in-depth look at what has happened to many of those displaced. An online exclusive profiles sisters caring for children:
At 8:30 a.m., a new facility for the children of displaced Iraqi families is abuzz with the sound of young voices and teachers.
From one classroom comes a singsong drone wishing the children a good morning in Arabic. “Sabah al kheir” comes the greeting, lilted at the end to suggest a question. “Sabah al noor,” the children reply, wishing their teachers a good morning in return.
In all five classrooms of the kindergarten, the day begins with the “first circle,” where teachers welcome the children, prayers are said and songs are sung. Prayers often include requests God return them to their former houses and villages, or that clothes and food be sent to those displaced Christians still living in precarious shelter.
From another classroom, melodies of Arabic nursery rhymes interspersed with ones in English can be heard. A slow, accented rendition of “One Potato, Two Potato” floats through the air at one point.
In the middle of this cacophony, Sister Ban Saeed is busy at a desk in the administrative office — a room with a curtain dividing it in two. The other half serves as the staff kitchen.
A Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena who trained as a Montessori teacher in Adrian, Michigan, and followed that with a master’s degree in early childhood education, Sister Ban is the engine behind the new kindergarten that this community of Iraqi Christians has so sorely needed since ISIS expelled them from their homes in August 2014.
“The kindergarten is a big help to families here,” she says of the school that opened on 17 March. “We are getting children out of their homes for a few hours a day. Since the displacement, most homes in fact contain two or three families, so it has been a very difficult situation. This kindergarten helps bring happiness to the children and to the parents as well.”
As with many other services, kindergarten was something most Christians had access to in their hometowns and villages across the Nineveh Plain. But since their abrupt expulsion, that entire infrastructure has disappeared. In the initial months of the crisis, the need for essentials such as shelter and health care was the central focus; now, secondary services such as education and child care are slowly beginning to return to the picture, doing much to ease the suffering and anxiety of the displaced families.
Read it all.
To support the ongoing work of the sisters helping these children, please visit our giving page. And remember to keep these people in your prayers!
5 August 2015
In Baghdad last week, an Iraqi man shows a thermometer reading more than 50 degrees Celsius, or over 120 degree Farenheit. (photo: AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)
Iraqis suffer through heat wave (The New York Times) Even after sunset, as the temperature coasts down from 122 degrees Fahrenheit, or 50 degrees Celsius, to perhaps 108, Baghdad’s heat can seem like a living thing. It clings to every contour of the body, squeezing tight. Iraq has been hot even by its own standards. Taking all conditions into account, the Weather Channel calculated that the peak day in Baghdad this summer felt like 159 degrees. It was a data point most likely of little use to outsiders unable to imagine even 122 degrees, and of little comfort to Iraqis living in it...
Refugees flood Greek island of Lesbos (The New York Times) Since the beginning of the year, the number of refugees and migrants arriving here and on other Greek islands has surged to full-scale humanitarian-crisis levels. Arrivals by sea have surpassed 107,000 through July, according to United Nations figures, eclipsing even the numbers of people reaching Italy. Most of those who arrive on the shores of Lesbos, a popular tourist destination just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, are fleeing the wars in Syria and Afghanistan and hoping to head deeper into Western Europe. In June, 15,254 migrants and refugees arrived on Lesbos, according to the Greek Coast Guard, compared with 921 the same month last year...
“Water project” for Aleppo concludes (Fides) Aleppo has again been without water since 31 July. A heat wave is expected for this week that will bring the temperature up to 45 degrees,” said a statement sent to Agenzia Fides by the NGO “Let us help Syria,” which along with the Marist Brothers and the Diocesan Missionary Centre of Rome have launched a project for the distribution of water in the martyred Syrian city. The extraordinary project “Water for Aleppo!” concluded two weeks after the launch, the statement said and “the collection of funds exceeded the budget initially planned for its realization, allowing its expansion.The purpose of the initiative was to allow Aleppo to cope with the terrible crisis caused by the interruption of the water supply that periodically prostrates residents of the second city of Syria...
Cardinal Sandri dedicates new cathedrals in California (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, on Saturday elevated the Church of Saint Anne in Los Angeles to the level of Co-cathedral of the Catholic Eparchy of Newton of the Greek Melkites. Bishop Nicholas Samra, the Eparch of Newton, was present at the celebration, as well as the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez... On Sunday, he presided over the Divine Armenian Liturgy celebrated at the new Cathedral of the Armenian Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Nareg in Glendale, California. It was during this liturgy that the seat of the Armenian Catholic Eparchy was transferred from New York to Glendale and the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator was raised to the level of Cathedral...
Ukraine army gets help from classic car restorers (BBC) The war in eastern Ukraine has prompted a group of classic car restorers to put their hobby aside and help the army instead. They are now busy fixing military kit — some of which is vintage, like the cars they usually repair. The enthusiasts work at the privately-run Phaeton museum in the city of Zaporizhya. It is just a few hours’ drive from the front line, where Ukrainian troops are battling Russian-backed separatists...
4 August 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Greece Melkite
According to tradition, the sacramental bread made for the eucharistic liturgy in the Church of the East is made and consumed the same day. The leaven used in the bread, called malka, is derived from the bread that Christ shared with his disciples at the Last Supper. A portion of the sacramental bread is reserved and added to subsequent loaves each time the liturgy
is to be celebrated. (photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Barbaric describes best the ferocity unleashed in Iraq and Syria. Ironically, these “nation states” largely correspond to the lands of ancient Mesopotamia — the cradle of civilization. There, thousands of years before the birth of Christ, the world’s first complex human societies emerged between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
It is less commonly known that Mesopotamia is also the cradle of the Christian faith. In its fertile soil, the seeds of Christianity took root quickly and eventually spread like wildflowers throughout Asia, reaching Afghanistan, China, India and Mongolia. But the Church of the East, the driving force behind the missionaries took the Gospel east via the Silk Road, has all but vanished. While a handful of the church’s members — who identify as Assyrians — remain in Mesopotamia, more than a third live in North America. The headquarters for the church of 400,000 people has been moved to a Chicago suburb, but increasingly its members are settling in Oceania and Scandinavia.
The origins of the Christian faith in Mesopotamia are obscure. An ancient legend connects a sickly king of Edessa to Jesus. Others credit St. Thomas the Apostle with evangelizing the region’s Jewish merchants as he traveled to India. That Edessa is the likely source of the faith in Mesopotamia is supported by linguistic evidence: The Aramaic dialect of Edessa, commonly called Syriac, became the literary language of the non-Greek-speaking Christian community in the Middle East.
Syriac Christianity flourished in a divided Mesopotamia. While Syriac Christians living in Byzantine-occupied territories participated in the great debates of the early church, Syriac Christians living in Persian areas developed independently. By the year 410, the Syriac bishop of the Persian capital (near modern Baghdad) emerged as the senior hierarch of the Persian church.
Pope John Paul II and Church of the East Catholicos-Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV exchange gifts after signing a historic Christological agreement in November 1994. The declaration, which acknowledged that the two churches share a common understanding of Jesus, ended nearly 1,600 years of isolation between the two churches. (photo: L’Osservatore Romano)
Commonly referred to as the Church of the East, this community retained its ties to the churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Yet, it grew under the suspicious eyes of the Persians — followers of the prophet Zoroaster — who suspected Christians of harboring loyalties to Christian Byzantium. By the end of the fifth century, as war raged between Byzantium and Persia, the Church of the East severed union with its sister churches in the Christian West.
Nevertheless, the Church of the East became renowned throughout the Christian world for its scholarship, especially in grammar, history, logic, mathematics, philosophy and theology. Arab Muslims, who conquered the Persian Empire in 634, turned to its scholars, who are largely responsible for the Arab world’s familiarity with ancient Greek astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy — disciplines that eventually reached Europe via Arab Sicily and Spain.
At its height in the 14th century, the Church of the East spanned most of Asia and included some 30 metropolitan sees and more than 200 eparchies. But the church’s successes were nearly destroyed overnight. Although the Crusades upset the Middle East’s carefully balanced Middle East societies, the near deathblow came from the east. At the end of the 14th century, Timur the Lame and his army invaded the Middle East, sacked its cities, massacred the inhabitants and leveled what remained. Those Christians who escaped death or enslavement retreated into the mountains, hunkering down in remote monasteries and mountainside villages. Isolation intensified, poverty set in and generation after generation either abjured their Christian faith and embraced Islam or became Catholics as contact with Latin missionaries increased.
During World War I, up to a third of those who belonged to the Church of the East were murdered by agents of the Ottoman Turkish sultan, which governed most of Mesopotamia. Survivors fled to the British-held cities of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra — and points farther west.
War and emigration have nearly decimated the presence of the church in the cradle of civilization. Yet, the sufferings of the Church of the East have brought to light not just the existence of this ancient community, but the richness of a tradition that unknowingly influenced the cultures and churches of the West.
Read here a full account of the Church of the East from the pages of ONE magazine.
4 August 2015
Hamaspyur Nazaretian greets visitors at her shelter in Gyumri. The Summer 2015 edition of ONE includes a personal and poignant “Letter from Armenia.” Read about life among the elderly there at this link. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
4 August 2015
In this image from March, Mustafa Abdülcemil Kirimoğlu, leader of Crimean Tatars, speaks at the U.N. in New York. According to reports, he’s announced the creation of a special military unit of Muslim soldiers to protect Crimea. (photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Ukraine to create Muslim military unit (International Business Times) Ukraine will create a unit of Muslim soldiers to protect the Crimean border and monitor imports and exports amid an increasingly violent battle with pro-Russian rebels, a Ukraine leader said Monday. The Muslim battalion will be formed of Crimean Tatars, Kazan Tatars, Uzbeks, Chechens, Azeris, Meskhetian Turks and other Muslim groups, said Mustafa Abdülcemil Kirimoğlu, leader of Crimean Tatars, according to local media reports. The Muslim battalion is part of growing relations between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians and will report to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said Kirimoğlu. Crimean Tatars are an ethnically Turkic and religiously Sunni Islam minority group that has faced decades of religious and political persecution under Russian rule...
Pentagon ramps up airstrikes in Syria (Los Angeles Times) U.S. officials Monday confirmed an expanded bombing campaign in Syria that increases the risk of confrontation with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, possibly drawing Washington more deeply into that country’s punishing four-year war. The Obama administration authorized the Pentagon to use force to help defend a small, U.S.-trained Syrian rebel unit against other insurgent factions — or against fighters allied with the Syrian government, officials said...
Facing threat from ISIS, Iraq digitizes its national library (AP) The dimly lit, dust-caked stacks of the Baghdad National Library hide a treasure of the ages: crinkled, yellowing papers holding the true stories of sultans and kings; imperialists and socialists; occupation and liberation; war and peace. These are the original chronicles of Iraq’s rich and tumultuous history — and now librarians and academics in Baghdad are working feverishly to preserve what’s left after thousands of documents were lost or damaged at the height of the U.S.-led invasion...
More children doing dangerous work in cotton fields in India (Fides) The number of children working in cotton fields continues to rise. According to a survey by the Indo-Dutch Committee and the private body Stop Child Labour Coalition, in India this activity involves some 200,000 minors age 14, minimum legal age for labour in the country. This year India is expected to become the world’s largest cotton producing country. It is to be noted that the number of children working in the cotton industry in India today is 100,000 higher than in 2010, the survey said, adding that working conditions in the fields are still dangerous and the children are exploited...
Ethiopia jails Muslim activists (Reuters) An Ethiopian court sentenced 17 Muslim activists on Monday to prison sentences ranging from seven to 22 years on charges they plotted to create an Islamic state in the majority Christian country. A journalist for a Muslim newspaper was also sentenced for conspiring with the activists, the court in Addis Ababa said. The defendants, who all denied the charges, were arrested in 2012 on charges of plotting to stage attacks to create an Islamic state in Ethiopia, which has a sizable Muslim minority...
3 August 2015
The Summer edition of ONE is now available online. You can check it out at this link.
And Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA’s President, has a special preview below.