3 September 2014
Parts of Erbil, Iraq, have become a tent city for refugees fleeing ISIS. (photo: CNEWA)
My colleague, Imad Abou Jaoude, and I arrived in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, yesterday. Joining us is Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf of the Good Shepherd Sisters congregation, who is here to represent all the women religious in Lebanon as a show of solidarity.
Our first observation was that the route from Beirut to Erbil was longer than expected. Our flight had to cover more than 300 extra miles to avoid flying above the Syrian state of Al Raqqa and Mosul. Once we neared Erbil, we were relieved because we thought we passed the danger areas — but then the captain announced that landing would be delayed about 10 minutes because there were so many planes on the runway. After a second announcement of a new delay, passengers — most of them Lebanese working in Erbil — started to speculate about different reasons for the delay. I was so afraid that I couldn’t even talk with them. The plane kept turning above the airport for more than 40 minutes before finally landing safely. To our surprise, we discovered the runways were almost empty. We never figured out why we were delayed.
Early this morning we headed for the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa.
Ain Kawa looks very different nowadays, under the arid weather and the high temperature. The sidewalks of the once elegant Christian neighborhood are now very crowded with children and women gathering near the churches and public schools.
We first set out to meet with Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Boutros Moshe of Mosul, who himself was displaced from Qaraqosh with more than 120,000 Christians on 7 August. Walking through the streets, we passed through a large number of children with their mothers. They were all waiting for their turn to get a vaccine from a field dispensary set up in a small tent where doctors — themselves also displaced from Qaraqosh hospital — were providing medical services to hundreds of Christian refugees.
The archbishop received us in a steel container located in the front yard of his church in Erbil. He was surrounded by three priests helping him register displaced families. He bishop explained to us that the most urgent need at present is to find shelter for thousands of Christians who are still sleeping in tents or who are about to be kicked out of school buildings with the beginning of the academic year in mid-September. The Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, Redemptorist Bashar Wardah, and the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Emile Shimoun Nona, agreed, and emphasized that finding shelter for the refugees remains the priority.
Archbishop Moshe has rented a small apartment in Erbil and is sharing it with 20 other people. He said sometimes people sleep in shifts on the mattresses because there is not enough space for everyone.
“When I wake up at 5 in the morning,” he said, “one of my relatives who lives with me takes my place to have at least a few hours of good sleep.”
The archbishop looked very tired, as most of his parishioners were displaced overnight and have found themselves confronting a situation where they have no where to turn but to the church.
Of the 7,864 displaced Christian families who found refuge in the Kurdish city of Erbil, more than 1,500 families remain in the backyards of churches or the playgrounds of some public schools.
Sister Maria Goretti Hanna, superior of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, was also displaced from Qaraqosh. She said at least nine convents of their congregation were invaded in the wee hours of the morning on 7 August. The 57 sisters living in those convents have found refuge in the Annunciation Convent in Ain Kawa. During our visit, the sisters were preparing the front yard of the convent to install some prefab containers that could accommodate all of them. The sisters are serving 26 displacement centers sheltering more than 50,000 displaced Christians in the city of Erbil.
One of the refugees we met told us that he was a public employee who used to work in a textile factory owned by the government in Qaraqosh, but it has been more than four months since he last got paid. The central government of Baghdad recognizes his rights, but for political and bureaucratic reasons it refuses to send the salaries to the Kurdish authority in Erbil. This is the situation of more than half of the displaced families. Others who used to work on their own or in private sectors have nothing to wait for. Another refugee said maybe going back to Qaraqosh and staying with ISIS would be more merciful and less painful.
3 September 2014
This tent in Erbil, Iraq, is typical of the place many Christian refugees who fled ISIS now call home. Others are living in schools and public parks. Hundreds are in need of food, shelter, medicine and basic necessities — and the problems grow more urgent by the day.
To offer your help, visit this link. (photo: CNEWA)
3 September 2014
Refugees line up at a makeshift dispensary set up in Erbil. (photo: CNEWA)
From Iraq, we received a heart-breaking letter from Sister Maria Hanna, superior general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, an Iraqi community of women religious with whom we collaborate closely.
“We entered the fourth week of displacement. Yet, there is nothing promising at all,” she writes of the displacement of more than a hundred thousand Christian refugees from their homes in the Nineveh Plain of northern Iraq. The Kurds, she writes, allowed the displaced “to enter their province,” but Sister Maria points out, “the church [had to] take full responsibility of us all.
“Yet, the number of refugees was so large that the Kurdish government had to face the stark reality and open their schools to provide additional shelter for refugees.
“We hear a lot about world governments and organizations sending financial aid to Iraq,” she continues, “but the refugee gets the least — we do not know or understand why.
“People lost almost everything,” she continues. “They cannot even afford to buy milk or formula for their children. What saddens us most is that, only one month ago, these people were the most educated in the country and among those most likely to build a life for themselves and their family, and now they do not have enough money in their pockets to survive the day. Christians became accustomed to investing their money in businesses, shops, fields, buildings, etc., [in order] to build their communities. Leaving their towns meant leaving everything they had been working for all their lives.
“Yet, amidst losing everything, accepting their lost dignity, is the most difficult loss they may experience.
“Some have found shelter in tents, others in schools, still others in church halls and gardens. They wait to be fed, or given food to cook; elderly are not being taken care of properly; children are living in unhealthy conditions; families have lost their privacy; women are exposed in these places; men have no jobs in a culture where a man is expected to support his families.
“Refusing to live without dignity, more and more people think of emigrating. Whoever owns a car or gold, sells them to buy a plane ticket out of the country. Needless to say, the buyers in Kurdistan are taking advantage and do not take into consideration the devastation these refugees face.
“Christians in Iraq are known for their faithfulness and peaceful way of living among others. They do not believe in violence or in war as a way to solve problems. Now, they feel that they are victims because other religions and political parties are dividing the country on the account of the innocent.
“None of us is a political analyst,” Sister Maria says, but “we still wonder why the world cannot petition the United Nations to take serious action toward the Islamic State [as ISIS now calls itself], and save the people from their misery, knowing that the Islamic State is the most dangerous group in the world.
“Is the world deaf and blind? she asks.
Of the despair now settling in among her people, Sister Maria writes that “people are almost convinced the only way out of this crisis is to emigrate and leave the country, if it is even possible. It is certain many have reached their breaking point and despair is setting in. Maybe emigrating is the only way to stop living in such a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.
“People cannot endure this persecution, marginalization, contempt and rejection anymore.
“If there is any other way, besides emigration, please let us know. Otherwise, please help people get out of the country, by seeking asylum, according to the U.N. law.”
In addition to its ongoing support of the churches in Iraq, CNEWA has rushed an initial installment of emergency funds to the sisters for the provision of milk, formula and diapers for children as well as the installation of portable sanitary units in camps in Dohuk and Erbil. CNEWA’s Beirut-based regional director, Michel Constantin, is in Erbil now, leading a team to coordinate better the work of the sisters and various volunteer initiatives of the Chaldean and Syriac churches.
Click here to learn how you can help Iraq’s displaced Christian families.
3 September 2014
In this image taken last month, a Dutch Royal Air Force transport aircraft at Eindhoven Airbase in Eindhoven, Netherlands, is being loaded with relief supplies for victims of the humanitarian disaster in Iraq. (photo: CNS/Bas Czerwinski, EPA)
Pope expresses support for persecuted Iraqis (Vatican Radio) At the General Audience Wednesday, Pope Francis told Arabic speaking pilgrims and “particularly those from Iraq,” that “like all mothers,” the Church accompanies her needy children. She “raises up the fallen child, heals his wounds, seeks the lost... and defends those who are defenseless and persecuted...”
Putin urges Ukraine to withdraw troops (CBS News) Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Russian-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine to “stop advancing” Wednesday and urged the Ukrainian army to withdraw their troops from the region. A day ahead of a NATO summit, Ukraine issued a vague statement about agreeing with Putin on cease-fire steps for eastern Ukraine. The separatists rejected the move, saying no cease-fire was possible without Ukraine withdrawing its forces, while Putin’s spokesman claimed that Moscow was not in a position to agree to a cease-fire because it is not party to the conflict...
Is Russian church risking schism over Ukraine? (The Moscow Times) The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the biggest of Ukraine’s Orthodox churches, and the only one recognized by other Orthodox churches worldwide. Backing the Kremlin on Ukraine could prompt an exodus of the flock from the Moscow-controlled church to the other branches, [Maxim] Goryunov said. Most Ukrainians support official Kiev’s stance on the rebellion, and so do independent churches. “It’s all about Ukraine,” Goryunov said. “If Patriarch [Kirill] starts to act gung-ho, everyone there will desert him...”
Israel claims nearly 1,000 acres near Bethlehem (The New York Times) Israel laid claim on Sunday to nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem — a step that could herald significant Israeli construction in the area — defying Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement expansion. Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes the construction of settlements in the West Bank, said that the action on Sunday might be the largest single appropriation of West Bank land in decades and that it could “dramatically change the reality” in the area...
Gaza reconstruction after war could take 20 years (CBC) An international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction says it will take 20 years for Gaza’s battered and neglected housing stock to be rebuilt following the war between Hamas and Israel. The assessment by Shelter Cluster, co-chaired by the UN refugee agency and the Red Cross, underscores the complexities involved in an overall reconstruction program for the Gaza Strip, which some Palestinian officials have estimated could cost in excess of $6 billion...
Ancient rock churches putting Ethiopia on tourist map (The Guardian) Kiya Gezahegne joined an unruly, jostling throng surrounding a priest who wielded a 12th-century gold and bronze cross, one of the most sacred artefacts in Ethiopia. A young man shut his eyes and trembled from head to toe as he was blessed. Finally, Gezahegne stepped forward and stooped so the priest could tap the cross all over her body. “I felt close to God,” she said. Steeped in ancient ritual, this was the scene revealed by dawn’s first light in the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. The cool morning air was filled with the smell of incense and the drumbeat and chanting of hundreds of pilgrims swathed in white robes, some kissing the walls. A sprinkling of foreign visitors groped through narrow crevices and labyrinthine tunnels. Earlier this year they included George W Bush and family and Evgeny Lebedev, the newspaper proprietor...
2 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Russia Russian Orthodox
This Iraqi family, newly arrived in Jordan, includes two young children, with a third on the way. The father left his teaching job to flee Iraq. (photo: CNEWA)
Fleeing for their lives, Iraqi Christian refugees have started to arrive in Jordan from northern Iraq.
The first wave arrived on 13 August, and every day since then more continue to arrive at the rate of 30 to 40 a day; by mid-September, the total is expected to reach 1,000 people.
The government is granting visas for those refugees upon their arrival; transportation is arranged to take them to local churches and convents.
Five churches received the first waves of refugees. They are: Our Lady of Peace on the Airport Road (100 people), the Latin Church in Marka (45 people), the Roman Catholic Church in Marj Al Hamam (70 people), St. Charbel’s Parish (64 people), the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Aphram in Al-Ashrafiyeh (50 people). Other news arrivals are staying with their relatives until they manage to rent a house.
To respond to this crisis, CNEWA’s office in Jordan is coordinating with our partners — church leaders, clergy, religious women and others — to analyze the situation and draw a plan for the essential needs that may change from one day to another.
In order for the refugees to receive adequate assistance, our immediate support will be given directly to the hosting churches accommodating the refugees and providing them with water, electricity, fuel, furniture, etc. Consequently, this will increase the financial burden on those churches. Additional support will be be directed to the families themselves, as most who arrived in Jordan lack even the most fundamental personal needs, such as clothes, underwear, toothpaste, shampoo, soup, and other hygiene items.
Therefore, it is very important to provide each family with a small amount of cash so they can purchase what they need.
Sister Antoinette, center, visits a house now serving as a home to four families—17 people—all living together in a three-room furnished apartment. (photo: CNEWA)
Medicine and healthcare treatment are essential; many require immediate attention, as there are a number of elderly people, handicapped, children and pregnant women. According to the Italian Hospital, most of the health programs of other organizations have been out of operation since July 2014. CNEWA is now carrying the burden of helping both Jordanians and refugees (Iraqis, Syrians and Palestinians) through the Italian hospitals in Amman and Kerak and in other hospitals as needed.
In addition to physical needs, there are psychological ones. Even though some refugees feel more secure, many are still in shock. They do not accept the reality of being displaced from their homes. The children are often terrified. For example, a three-year-old Iraqi girl who recently arrived with her family is suffering frequent panic attacks. Many of these people will need psychological treatment and support. We will be continuying our coordination with the Franciscan Sisters and a psychological specialist. We will also be supporting catechetical programs and psychosocial treatment sessions designed to help these vulnerable families.
There are many questions still to be answered. How long will the refugees be able to stay in the church halls? How long will the churches themselves be able to host them? How long they will stay in Jordan before their resettlement papers are ready? How long will the organizations be able to provide support? From our experience, after a short period, each will start step back due to lack of financial support,leaving the vulnerable people hopeless and helpless.
CNEWA will be supporting churches and helping to bear some of the cost of hosting these Iraqis by providing funds for food, housing, basic furniture, blankets and other necessities, along with medical treatment and psychological support for families who have been so severely traumatized by ISIS. Can you help us help them? Visit our special Iraq giving page to learn how you can support our suffering brothers and sisters during this moment of crisis. And please keep them in your prayers!
2 September 2014
A refugee named Elsa stands in her home in Mai-Aini, where she has lived for more than four years. Read more about her life in an Ethiopian refugee camp in “Starting Over: Elsa’s Dream” in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures)
2 September 2014
In the video above, Pope Francis greets players and organizers at yesterday’s
Soccer Match for Peace.(video: Rome Reports)
Report: Russian troops strengthening positions in Ukraine (Reuters) Russian troops are strengthening their positions in eastern Ukraine and using aid shipments to smuggle in arms and other supplies to separatist forces, Kiev’s military said on Tuesday. Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said units of Russian troops had been identified in the big regional centre of Donetsk, towns and villages to its east and in south-east areas near the Sea of Azov. Fifteen more Ukrainian servicemen were killed in fighting in the past 24 hours, Lysenko said...
Vatican: world community must stop unjust aggression in Iraq (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Silvano Tomasi is calling on the international community to take concrete steps to stop the ongoing violence and persecution of minorities in northern Iraq, to reestablish a just peace and to protect all vulnerable groups of society...
Pope Francis calls priest at Iraqi refugee camp (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis called a priest at a refugee camp in Iraq to express his closeness to the persecuted Christians who have taken refuge there and to promise his continued support. Pope Francis reportedly called Fr. Behnam Benoka on 19 August, a day after returning from his apostolic journey to South Korea. Fr Benoka is a priest of Bartella, a small Christian town near Mosul, and the vice-rector of the Catholic seminary in Ain Kawa...
Poll shows increased support for Hamas (ABC News) The popularity of the Hamas militant group among Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has spiked significantly following the 50-day war with Israel, according to an opinion poll released Tuesday. The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and headed by leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, indicates that 61 percent of Palestinians would choose the Islamic militant group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, for president if Palestinian presidential elections were held today. Only 32 percent would vote for current President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ rival, the survey suggested...
Thousands attend interreligious match for peace (Vatican Radio) Thousands of sports fans, young and old, came out to Rome’s Olympic Stadium Monday night to watch football greats Roberto Baggio, Javier Zanetti and Diego Armando Maradona, among others, take part in the Interreligious Match for Peace. Players representing the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Shinto religions took to the field for the 8:45 p.m. kickoff. The event was intended to gather players and fans in a moment of unity and solidarity in support of world peace and to demonstrate the power of sport in building peace...
Could alcohol probhibition work in Kerala? (Times of India) Trouble is brewing in Kerala, where the government is about to call last orders on almost all alcohol. In an Indian state that crams 35 million people and almost a million annual visitors into an area not even twice the size of Wales, planned prohibition represents a social revolution that is comparable in scale to the doomed policy that America pursued during the 1920’s...
29 August 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Vatican Kerala Russia
Yesterday, Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated Mass to mark the opening of the academic year at the Catholic University of America in Washington. But he took a moment at the ceremony’s conclusion to make a personal and impassioned plea. The brief video below is worth watching and sharing. It speaks to the conscience of the world.
The text appears on the cardinal’s blog:
Often we’re asked, “How is it possible that in human history atrocities occur?” They occur for two reasons. Because there are those prepared to commit them and there are those who remain silent. And the actions in Iraq and Syria today, what’s happening to women, children, men, their displacement — as the least of the things happening to them — is something that we really are not free to ignore and sometimes all we have to raise is our voice.
Watch the video below.
Keep our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria in your prayers. And, if you can, please remember them in a special way by making a gift to support the work of CNEWA in Iraq. Visit this page to learn how.
29 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq
Reports emerging from Syria indicate that an important Christian stronghold — the city of Mhardeh and nearby Hama — have been surrounded by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-backed rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
One account comes from the Middle Eastern news service Al-Monitor:
The swift deterioration of the situation in the west and north of Hama’s countryside [comes] as anti-regime forces — including Jabhat al-Nusra — advance toward the Christian city of Mhardeh, which overlooks Al-Ghab Plain, as well as in the direction of Hama’s military airport.
The militants began carrying out unprecedented attacks using BM-21 Grad missiles targeting the regime’s sites surrounding Alawite-majority towns in Masyaf city and Al-Ghab Plain.
Moreover, civilians have started fleeing Alawite villages that are located near battlefields such as the town of Arza near Hama’s military airport, which has been deserted.
A resident from an Alawite town in the western countryside of Hama told Al-Monitor, “The situation has become perilous as groups linked to Jabhat al-Nusra are approaching the region.”
“People are carrying arms at an increasingly rapid pace, while many families owning real estate in Tartous and Latakia have deserted their homes. The situation has become alarming in this region, especially since many residents expect Jabhat al-Nusra to commit massacres there, should it progress in the region. This will be in retaliation for the massacres the group accused the NDF of committing in Sunni towns — mainly in the towns of Tremseh and al-Lataminah in 2012,” he said.
A quick tour of the Alawite villages in the west of Hama’s countryside is sufficient to notice the extent of tension and alert among people, as dozens of checkpoints are deployed along the roads, while cars and pedestrians are being thoroughly searched.
29 August 2014
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem visits Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan who recently fled Mosul, Iraq. Patriarch Twal praised Jordan’s efforts to help the refugees and encouraged the Christians who have remained steadfast, clinging to their faith, in the midst of persecution. (photo: CNS/courtesy Catholic Media Office)
Tags: Iraq Refugees Jordan