8 August 2014
Two years ago, I wrote a piece on religious minorities in the Middle East. At the time the civil war in Syria brought the Alawites to the consciousness of the Western world. In my essay, I tried to cover briefly as many of the religious minorities as possible. Most people in the west had never heard of these groups and they were more curiosities than newsmakers.
But in the ongoing tragedy that is the contemporary Middle East, yesterday’s curiosities become today’s headlines. With the brutal onslaught of the forces of ISIS, Christians and other minorities have become targets for extermination. One of these minorities is the Yazidis. Though virtually unknown outside the Middle East, they are now front page news in the western media, as ISIS engages in an act of genocide against them. Who are these people? What do they believe?
Here’s a glimpse, from ONE magazine in 2012:
The Yazidis constitute one of the smallest and most interesting religious minorities in the Middle East. It is estimated that there are less than 100,000 of them living in parts of Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. They believe that they are not descended from the biblical Eve and, hence, hold themselves apart from non-believers.
Though they believe in one God, that deity is not interested in the running of the cosmos. That task has been handed over to Mal’ak Tus (“peacock angel”), who together with six other angels manages creation.
Yazidis do not believe in the existence of evil but believe that purification occurs through the transmigration of souls, similar to what is believed in the religions of India. Influences of Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be found in the practices of the Yazidis.
Who could possibly be the next targets of Sunni extremism in the Middle East? There are a number of minorities who could be at risk. Read more in Religious Minorities in the Middle East from the March 2012 edition of ONE.
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq War Iraqi Refugees Yazidi religious freedom
In this image from 2009, Italian Archbishop Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, walks with a Swiss Guard at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Danilo Schiavella, pool via Reuters)
This morning, it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed a personal envoy to help Christians in Iraq:
Pope Francis is sending a cardinal to Iraq to help thousands of Christians fleeing the rapid advance of jihadis from the Islamic State (IS), the Vatican says.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, a former papal nuncio to the country, is being sent to Iraqi Kurdistan to show the pope’s “spiritual support and the church’s solidarity with the people who are suffering,” papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
He said Filoni would be departing soon but gave no date.
The Vatican has come in for criticism from Eastern Christians not doing more to help the persecuted minority, who are fleeing into the mountains alongside thousands of members of the minority Yazidi community in the face of a rapid advance north by Sunni extremists.
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
Najaf takes in Christians displaced by Islamic State (Al Monitor) After Christians were forced to leave Mosul and other areas that fell under the control of the Islamic State, Kurdish and Shiite dominated cities opened their doors to receive them. Religious authorities adopted stances supporting Christians, as they called on residents to host and help their brothers in the country. The Imam Al Khoei Foundation, one of the prominent religious institutions in Najaf, issued on 30 July a statement in support of Christians and minorities in Iraq. An excerpt of the statement reads, “We announce our readiness to receive the displaced Iraqi families, be they Christians or Muslims. We call on all Iraqis to offer aid for the displaced families and protect them from the aggressors, in accordance with the principles of humanitarian and national fraternity…”
U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants in northern Iraq (Washington Post) U.S. military jets carried out two airstrikes Friday on Islamist militants outside the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil, hours after President Obama authorized attacks against the Sunni extremists advancing on the northern Iraq city. The F-18 combat aircraft targeted artillery being used by militants of the Islamic State extremist group against Kurdish forces defending Erbil, the Pentagon said. It said the artillery was fired at Kurdish forces “near U.S. personnel…”
Humanitarian group warns that aid alone is not enough for people of Gaza (Vatican Radio) In Gaza, up to half a million people have been displaced by the month-long conflict with Israel and are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. The London-based Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) has warned that aid alone is not enough for the people of the territory. CAFOD is appealing for donations and also asking its supporters to lobby the British government to push for a just and lasting peace. The agency’s Middle East representative, Mary Lucas, spoke to Susy Hodges about the situation on the ground in Gaza…
Gaza talks falter as deadly offensive reignites (Daily Star Lebanon) Deadly hostilities engulfed Gaza once again Friday where a 10-year-old boy was killed and Israeli warplanes struck targets in retaliation for dozens of Palestinian cross-border rockets attacks. Exactly one month after Israel launched a punishing air campaign to destroy Hamas rockets, the Jewish state said talks in Cairo on extending a 72-hour truce were over as rockets wounded two people in Israel. “Israel will not negotiate under fire,” an official said on condition of anonymity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to retaliate “forcefully to the Hamas breach of the cease-fire,” as the violence ended long-term cease-fire negotiations in Cairo…
Cease-fire in Gaza expires, and strikes resume (New York Times) As a 72-hour truce in Gaza expired at 8 a.m. Friday, Palestinian militants fired barrages of rockets into Israel and the Israeli military responded with airstrikes, one of which killed a 10-year-old boy, according to relatives. The renewed hostilities interrupted the indirect talks in Cairo, brokered by Egypt and backed by the United States, for a more durable cease-fire agreement. Hamas is demanding a lifting of the blockade on Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt and an opening of all the border crossings to allow the free movement of people and goods in and out of the Palestinian coastal territory. Israel is demanding measures to prevent Hamas from rearming and, eventually, the demilitarization of Gaza…
7 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Iraqi Refugees
Kurdish “peshmerga” troops stand guard against Islamic State militants on the outskirts of the province of Ninevah, Iraq, on 6 Aug. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Early this morning, we learned that the fighters of ISIS (the Islamic State) have conquered all the Christian villages around Mosul in the Nineveh Plain — namely Qaraqosh, Talkeif, Tel Eskof, Qaramlesh, Bartella and Al Qosh.
I talked to Archbishop Yohanna Boutros Moshe of Mosul, whose eparchy includes these ancient Christian villages, and he informed me that tens of thousands of Christians left their homes in the middle of the night and fled to the Christian quarter of Erbil, Ain Kawa, following the invasion of the Jihadists and the withdrawal of the Kurdish forces (Peshmerga), who were defending the villages. Erbil, home to some 50,000 Christians as well as some 30,000 displaced from Mosul, is located 19 miles southeast of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which was captured by ISIS in June.
The archbishop said the commander of the Peshmerga in Qaraqosh told church leaders on Wednesday that the forces were abandoning their posts in Qaraqosh, Tel Eskof and Qaramlesh. The withdrawal of the Kurdish forces came following clashes between the Peshmerga and the militants of the Islamic State on Wednesday in the town of Makhmur near Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish semi-autonomous zone.
Archbishop Moshe said that less than 10,000 Christians (out of 100,000) remained in Qaraqosh and surrounding villages; the remaining 90,000 have left at night by buses and private cars. He also informed me that tens of thousands of Christians are still waiting on the border at Erbil to get the permission to enter the city.
Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, Yousif Mirkis, told the news agency, AFP: “It’s a catastrophe, a tragic situation. We call on the UN Security Council to immediately intervene. Tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak, it cannot be described.”
The ISIS advance means jihadists are now within striking distance — in some areas just a few miles — from the border of the Kurdish Regional Government and its capital, Erbil.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, Louis Raphael, has issued an urgent S.O.S. from Baghdad on Thursday. In an open letter, he wrote:
“An exodus, a real via crucis [Way of the Cross], of Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat toward Kurdish cities ... they are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need water, food, shelter. We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all people of good will and the United States and the European Union, to save these innocent persons from death. We hope it is not too late!”
Against this backdrop, Pope Francis issued his own appeal for peace just a few hours later. According to Reuters, in a statement issued by the Holy See:
“His Holiness addresses an urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, to act to protect those affected or threatened by violence and to provide aid, especially for the most urgent needs of the many who have been forced to flee and who depend on the solidarity of others.”
For more on the deepening crisis in Iraq:
“Nobody Can Imagine How Terrible It Is”
Christians Flee Islamist Attacks in Northern Iraq
And to learn how you can help, please visit this link.
7 August 2014
During our journey to the Holy Land with Catholic Women’s League of Canada members in July, we visited some places that Pope Francis had visited during his pastoral visit to the Holy Land from 24-26 May 2014. It was special to follow in his footsteps, praying where he prayed and hearing the stories of people who had encountered him. I thought I’d give you a taste of it through pictures.
Jordan River: We visited the Baptism site on the Israeli side of the Jordan River, where Pope Francis prayed and met with refugees, the sick and disabled. At this place, we renewed our baptismal vows.
Bethlehem: His Holiness Francis stopped spontaneously at the wall separating Israel and Palestine and silently prayed. We also took a moment to pray at this spot.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Pope Francis met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, their predecessors.
Western Wall: Pope Francis prayerfully placed intentions in the wall and embraced his Argentinian friends, Jewish Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud. We also offered our prayer intentions here.
Yad Vashem: We visited the Hall of Remembrance where the pope gave an impassioned speech which began with “Adam, where are you?”
Upper Room: Before leaving the Holy Land, His Holiness celebrated Mass in the Upper Room. We prayed together in this room, where the Last Supper took place and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Twelve Apostles at Pentecost.
7 August 2014
Tags: Pope Francis CNEWA Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims CNEWA Canada
A Lebanese army soldier carries a young refugee fleeing the violence in Syria in the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, on 6 August. (photo: CNS/Hassan Abdallah, Reuters)
7 August 2014
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War
Reporters present a video “notebook” collecting the sights and sounds behind the stories of war. (video: Al Jazeera)
Briefing U.N. Assembly, Ban urges end to ‘senseless cycle of suffering’ in Gaza (U.N. News Center) As the temporary ceasefire continues to hold in Gaza, senior United Nations officials today urged Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, and called on the 193 Member States to respond to calls for emergency humanitarian funding. In an informal meeting of the General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that for the moment, the near constant firing of Hamas rockets and Israeli missiles and mortars has subsided. “But … we cannot rest as the suffering continues. This ceasefire has come at a price that is almost too much to bear,” said Mr. Ban…
Patriarchs decry Christian exodus, demand U.N. act (Daily Star Lebanon) The heads of Eastern churches expressed outrage Thursday over the displacement of Christians in north Iraq, appealing to the international community, and Arab and Islamic states in particular, to take swift action to stop the onslaught at the hands of jihadist groups. “We call upon the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court to take swift, effective and immediate salvaging action,” the patriarchs said in a statement. “The United Nations is requested to take a firm decision to ensure the return of the people to their lands by all possible means and in the quickest possible time…”
Isis seizes Iraq’s largest Christian town (The Guardian) Jihadists have taken over Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and the surrounding areas sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing towards autonomous Kurdistan, according to officials and witnesses. Islamic State (Isis) militants moved in overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish peshmerga troops, who are stretched thin across several fronts in Iraq, residents said. “I now know that the towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants,” Joseph Thomas, the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, told AFP…
Pope asks for international action to help Iraq’s persecuted Christians (CNS) Pope Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray for tens of thousands of Christians from villages in northeastern Iraq who were forced from their homes in the middle of the night by Islamic State militants. The pope also made a “pressing appeal to the international community to take initiatives to put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, to take steps to protect those involved and threatened by violence and to ensure the necessary aid for so many displaced people whose fate depends on the solidarity of others,” the Vatican spokesman said on 7 August…
Jordan ‘refuses’ Palestinians fleeing Syria conflict (BBC) Jordan is turning away Palestinian refugees from Syria in violation of international law, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch says. It is said to have forcibly repatriated more than 100 asylum seekers, including women and children, since mid-2012. Most of the Palestinians come from refugee camps or villages in Syria that have experienced heavy fighting. It appears that Jordan fears an influx of Syrian Palestinians would cause instability…
Poland, Hungary recall Roma holocaust (Vatican Radio) While Europe remembers the outbreak of World War I, commemorations have been held in Hungary and Poland for what often has been called the “forgotten Holocaust”: the murder of hundreds of thousands of Roma people during World War II…
6 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Iraqi Christians Roma
A contact sent us the following message:
Date: August 6, 2014
Subject: Report from Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq
This report was sent to us by Ms. Christina Patto, VP Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq. Here what she wrote:
Here is our report and some of our testimony concerning the events happening now in North of Iraq.
It is a tragic situation, nobody can imagine how terrible it is, as much as I write to you and send you reports it will not be enough to describe the suffering of people.
For Zummar and Sinjar: they are under Da’esh control, thousands of Yazidis died in the last two days, they are facing a real genocide. Till yesterday (45) children died of thirst. Some families throw their children from the top of Sinjar mountain in order not to see them die from hunger or thirst, or not to be taken by the terrorists. (1500) men were killed in front of their wives and families, (50) old men died also from thirst and illness. More than (70) girl and women (including Christians) were taken, raped and being captured and sold. More than (100) families are captured in Tel afar airport.
There is about (50) Christian families in Sinjar. The terrorists were able to control the Syriac church there and cover the Cross with their black banner. Till now we do not know anything about those Christian families.
For Nineveh Plain:
As a reason to the continuous bombing on Telkeif, Deacon (Lujain Hikmat Nano) died, most of the families left their houses and would leave one member of the family in the house, but this tragic led to an exodus from Telkeif. the same thing happened in Shekhan and the surrounded villages (shekhan center, Karanjo, Dashqotan and Ein biqri).
Ba’ashiqa: an exodus from there because there was boming and battles near Ba’ashiqa as the terrorists are trying to control that area too. Ba’ashiqa Monastory is being evacuated from the inhabitants and from IDPs.
Ein Sifni: an exodus of the Yazidi families which forced the christian families to flee too.
Mosul Falls are now under the control of the terrorist, these fall are about (10-15 Km) from Ein sifni.
Batnaye and Tellisquf: also an exodus because of the threats and bad circumstances they are going through.
Our Dorm, the empty houses in the villages, the halls of the churches, school and mosques are full of IDPs and in very bad conditions. I cannot give you the exact number of those families. Also it is very hard to describe their needs in food baskets only, on one can imagine this tragedy, one may cry to see those people in this situation.
Concerning Zakho and Center Duhok: Till now they are under the KRG control.
pls excuse my chaotic writing and expression, we are all in a bad situation.
So, according to my above report, you can decide what kind of aid you can offer.
Please help us support these families suffering violence beyond comprehension, and please keep them in your prayers.
6 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Yazidi Iraqi
From the Daily Star:
Jihadists have launched fresh attacks on Christian areas in north Iraq, sparking a new wave of displacement, the country’s Chaldean patriarch and witnesses said Wednesday.
Towns shelled in the past few days by Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militants include Tal Kayf, Bartella and Qaraqosh, according to Christian sources.
The towns are among many in the area where thousands of Christians who were forced to abandon their homes in the main northern city of Mosul last month had found refuge.
Some of them are less than 50 kilometers away from Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.
Chaldean patriarch Louis Raphael I said at least one man had been killed by mortar fire, naming him as Lajin Hekmat, an employee of the main church in Tal Kayf, just north of Mosul.
Read the full story here.
6 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Iraqi
Chaldean Bishop Frank Kalabat carries a monstrance on 1 August as he leads nearly 1,000 Chaldean Catholics outside Mother of God Chaldean Church in Southfield, Michigan in praying for for persecuted Iraqi Christians. (photo: CNS/Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)
Chaldean Catholics in Michigan last week gathered to pray for suffering Christians in Iraq:
Standing in the sanctuary of Mother of God Chaldean Cathedral, flanked by an empty cross and two ominous red symbols, Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat led more than 1,000 people on 1 August in an earnest prayer for peace and a plea for help. The bright red symbols were the Arabic letter that stands for “Nassara” or “Nazarene” — meaning Christian, and they were ominous because Islamic militants have used the symbol to identify some 200,000 Iraqis singled out for an ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed. Painted on the targets’ houses, the symbol is intended by the militants to be a derogatory term. But Bishop Kalabat said he wears it with honor. “This is the latest image today of what has been endured for us as the cross,” he said, pointing to the wooden crucifix behind him. Bishop Kalabat, who in June was ordained the second bishop of the Southfield-based Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, urged those in attendance to keep their focus on Jesus, and to unite their sufferings with him. In a powerful address to the overflowing congregation, which included several local media outlets, Bishop Kalabat acknowledged the difficulty in forgiving those who unjustly persecute and kill Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. But the bishop said forgiveness does not mean Christians should not also pray and ask for justice, including from elected leaders. He called on the United Nations and international community to condemn the violence as genocide and said humanitarian aid was badly needed for Iraqi refugees, many of whom have found temporary protection from the Kurdish army after fleeing their homes in northern and central Iraqi cities such as Mosul.
To help provide humanitarian aid to Iraqi refugees, visit this link.
Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi