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Volume 43, Number 3
1 December 2014
CNEWA staff

A sister walks among families in the basement of an unfinished building in Erbil now used as a shelter for displaced Christians. (photo: Don Duncan)

We recently received the following urgent appeal from Sister Maria Hanna, prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq:

After four months of exile there are no signs of hope that the situation here in Iraq will be resolved peacefully. Unable to think or make decisions, everything is vague and we feel as if we have been living a nightmare. Christianity in Iraq is bleeding; so many families have left, and many are leaving to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, preparing themselves for second immigration and an uncertain future. We do not know how long these families will be able to tolerate the burden and survive financially.

The conditions remain the same for those of us in Iraq. Many still are forced to stay in unfinished buildings on construction sites. In one place, a mall has been remodeled to accommodate families, with the hall divided merely with partitions. Although they are better than tents, they resemble dark, damp cages with no ventilation. Most difficult of all is the lack of privacy.

There have been some attempts to provide containers and rent houses and flats, but this is not enough, as the number of displaced people increases each day. Many come from cold, mountainous places. Psychologically, people are tired, worried, confused and irritated — who would blame them? They are jobless, their children do not attend school and young people are still waiting to start their academic year. Some tried to register at Kurdish universities, but they were not accepted. All this is causing tremendous strain on the families, and the result is abuse and relationships that are unhealthy. The problems are totally overwhelming, and it seems as if our efforts are amounting to nothing.

People have been stripped of their dignity and unjustly deprived of all their money and possessions. What money people do have cannot be withdrawn from banks as the central government has frozen their accounts. Moreover, some people desperately look for work, ready to labor for minimum wage.

Despite this, things would be much worse if it were not for the aid we have received from you and the many benefactors who have contributed what they can.

Thank you. Indeed, we are so grateful to you, and we have tried to help as many people as we can with these donations. Our focus has not been on the refugee centers and camps only, as refugees at these centers are supported by the organization and the church. Rather we are trying to help those families who rent houses, but cannot support themselves. So we help them by providing bedding and clothing.

As for our community, we are extremely exhausted with concern for the family and friends we have who are unjustly forced to leave us. Everyday we hope that tomorrow will be better, but our tomorrows seem to bring only more tears and hardship. “Out of the depths we cry to thee, O Lord! When will you rescue us?”

We desperately count on your prayers, and we need you carry us to Jesus like the men who brought the paralytic to Jesus.

God bless you,

Sr. Maria Hanna, O.P.

Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena — Iraq

This comes at an especially difficult time in the region, amid reports today that the United Nations is cutting food aid to refugees:

From Reuters:

A lack of funds has forced the U.N. World Food Program to stop providing food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, the agency said on Monday.

“Without WFP vouchers, many families will go hungry. For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating,” said WFP, which needs $64 million to support the refugees for the rest of December.

Please visit our giving page to help our brothers and sisters during this hour of great need. Please remember them in your prayers.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees Relief

1 December 2014
Greg Kandra

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople kisses Pope Francis as they embrace during an ecumenical prayer service in the patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul on 29 November.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

1 December 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Pope Francis, left, attends a Divine Liturgy with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, right, in the patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul on 30 November. The liturgy marked the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the ecumenical patriarchate. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope, Orthodox leader pray for peace in Ukraine amid new battle (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians have called for peace in Ukraine and urged all sides to seek dialogue based on international law to resolve the conflict. Click here for more of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Turkey…

Ukraine crisis: New battle rages at Donetsk airport (BBC) Ukraine says its troops are still holding Donetsk airport despite an intensive assault by pro-Russian rebels “backed by Russian special forces.” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said “heavy fighting” was raging at the airport’s old terminal. He denied an earlier report that the terminal had been blown up…

Crimean Tatars fear Russian annexation (Washington Post) Crimea’s Tatars have bitter memories of the 1944 deportation that tore them from their native peninsula. With Russia again in control, some here say pressure is building once more. Russian security forces have searched the homes of leaders of the Muslim minority group for banned books. Young Tatar men have been kidnapped off Crimean streets. Tatar activists are sitting in jail. A few have been killed. Some Tatars say they now fear to venture out of their houses…

1.7 million Syrian refugees face food crisis as U.N. funds dry up (The Guardian) A funding crisis has forced the United Nations World Food Program (W.F.P.) to suspend food vouchers to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, leaving hundreds of thousands of displaced families facing a “disastrous” winter and increasing the risk of further instability in the region…

US strikes target Islamic State forces in Syrian towns of Raqqa and Kobane (Christian Science Monitor) U.S.-led airstrikes pounded positions of the self-styled Islamic State in and around the Syrian city of Raqqa, which the group considers its capital, today. The group cemented its control over the city and the northern Syrian province of the same name in August, and it has since served as a model — or a horrifying warning, depending on your point of view — of the kind of government they’d like to bring to the whole region…

Gaza’s pregnant women suffer (Al Monitor) With the high number of wounded individuals during the last Israeli offensive against Gaza, doctors were often unable to attend to pregnant women giving birth or experiencing complications before and after deliveries…

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

26 November 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2005 photo, Manna Gebreyons, a teacher at a school run by the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat, shares a meal with her mother, left, her brother and another teacher from the school. To learn more about the role of Catholic schools in Ethiopia, read Making the Grade in Ethiopia, from the March 2006 issue of ONE. Last year, we also spotlit the meal programs that have been vital to the success of these institutions. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Tags: Ethiopia Education Catholic education Hunger

26 November 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Children play in a field as Turkish Armed Forces dispatch tanks to the Turkish-Syrian border. (photo: Getty Images)

Swing sets and death in Syria: A visit to an Aleppo playground (Der Spiegel) Majid, what are you doing? “I’m watering mommy.” Majid drags a large, blue bucket — so full that he can hardly carry it — across the withered grass. But why are you watering your mother? The 13-year-old looks puzzled, as though it were the kind of idiotic question that only outsiders might ask. “Because she’s right here,” he says and pours the water onto a mound surrounded by a few stones meant to mark the site as a grave. An old pine tree offers a bit of shade, but so far, nothing seems to have taken root at the place where Majid’s mother is buried. “I have to water it. Then something will grow for sure,” he says with a steady voice as he heads back to refill his bucket. Majid’s mother died in the summer, but nobody in the family had enough money for a proper gravestone or even a border for the site. She died “because of her heart,” Majid says, “in her mid-30’s.” He can’t be more precise than that; nobody in Aleppo really asks anymore why someone is dead. Majid drags a third bucket-full to the grave, as though seeking to atone for something he played no part in, as if he could score a tiny victory against all the dying…

Syria conflict: Raqqa air strikes death toll rises (BBC) Almost 100 people are now believed to have died in a series of government air strikes against the Islamic State in Raqqa on Tuesday, activists say. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 52 civilians were killed. One activist from Raqqa told the BBC the only hospital still functioning in the city was finding it difficult to cope with the dozens of wounded. Syrian government and U.S.-led coalition aircraft frequently bomb Raqqa, which the Islamic State took full control of in January…

Pope says he would ‘never close the door’ on talks with Islamic State (CNS) Meeting reporters on 25 November on his return flight from Strasbourg after addressing the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, Pope Francis said terrorism is a threat the world must take seriously. Specifically asked if he thought there was even the most remote possibility of dialoguing with terrorists like those from the Islamic State, Pope Francis said, “I never count anything as lost. Never. Never close the door. It’s difficult, you could say almost impossible, but the door is always open…”

Islamic State imposes a reign of fear in Iraqi hospitals (Washington Post) After storming the Iraqi city of Mosul in June, the brutal Islamic State quickly solidified its control. Gunmen enforced its laws, and supportive imams preached at the mosques. But the jihadists were missing something — doctors. So last month, the Islamic State issued an ultimatum to physicians who had fled: Return to work, or we’ll seize your property and you can never come back. The Islamic State’s efforts to run Mosul’s health-care system provide a glimpse into its efforts to build a caliphate, or Islamic state, in Iraq and Syria. Despite their victories on the battlefield, the jihadists have struggled as everyday administrators in Mosul, with the city’s hospitals grappling with daily power outages and shortages of medicine. The Sunni fighters have also imposed measures that have alienated staff and compromised the lives of patients, doctors say…

Israel violates terms of Gaza cease-fire (Al Monitor) Israel closed its border crossings with Gaza on 24 November to prevent the export of vegetables from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and some Arab countries, in clear violation of the truce agreement signed between the Palestinian factions and Israel under the auspices of Egypt. One of the most important points of the truce was the opening of the crossings and providing guarantees to lift the siege on Gaza. Israel is also preventing Palestinian fishermen off the coast of Gaza from accessing the agreed-upon area of six nautical miles in the truce agreement. It either shoots them or destroys their boats and arrests them out at sea…

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Children Israeli-Palestinian conflict Aleppo

25 November 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2011 photo, a shop owner in the market of Hamdaniya, a city in northern Iraq's Nineveh plains, tends to his produce. Though ONE took a look at the lives of Iraqi Christians seeking shelter in the north in A New Genesis in Nineveh, the landscape has changed dramatically for the worse in the last three years. CNEWA continues to accompany displaced Iraqis in their time of need. To join in this mission of compassion and hope, please click here. (photo: Safin Hamed)

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief

25 November 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2012 photo, Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of Brooklyn, N.Y., celebrates the Divine Liturgy with U.S. bishops from the Eastern Catholic churches at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

‘Orientalium Ecclesiarum’ at 50 (National Catholic Register) In the 50 years since the promulgation of “Orientalium Ecclesiarum,” the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the Eastern Catholic churches, this document has made noteworthy progress toward its goals, yet much waits to be done, according to church observers and specialists on the council. Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour, who heads the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, N.Y., said these 50 years have been “graced years, and Eastern Catholic churches are closer than ever before in a good union with the Latin Church…”

Pope Francis meets with Egyptian President (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday received in audience Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi. Following this encounter, the President met with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The pope expressed his hope that the peaceful coexistence among all components of society may be strengthened and the path to inter-religious dialogue may continue to be pursued.…

Islamic State militants blow up convent in city of Mosul (Vatican Radio) Islamic State militants blew up with explosives the Sacred Heart convent in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Monday, according to local Chaldean Christian sources consulted by Fides news agency. The explosions badly damaged the convent, especially its church…

Iraq’s Anbar grapples with devastation (Al Jazeera) A 10-month siege of the Anbar province has sparked one of the worst humanitarian crises to hit Iraq. The province, which borders Syria, has seen fierce fighting between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State, which has controlled most of Iraq’s western province for the past two months…

Tags: Iraq Egypt Pope Francis Ecumenism Chaldean Church

24 November 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

A girl collects water outside of the 300-square-foot open shed serving as St. Alphonsa Church, the newest parish in the Eparchy of Bijnor, in northern India. To learn more about the Dalit Christians of this region, read Cast Aside, in the Summer 2014 issue of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)

Tags: India Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Indian Christians Indian Catholics Dalits

24 November 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

A poster displayed outside of a Catholic church in Istanbul welcomes Pope Francis, scheduled to visit Turkey 28-30 November. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is pictured with Pope Francis. (photo: CNS/Nathalie Ritzmann)

Catholic and Orthodox churches move closer in Istanbul (La Prensa) After centuries, the Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches are enjoying an unusual period of harmony in Istanbul, in the hope of overcoming the millenary schism in Christianity. A placard with the images of Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew decorates the entrance to Istanbul’s St. Anthony Church with the inscription “Welcome” in Turkish and English on it. The Catholic community in the city on the Bosphorus is completing preparations for a meeting between the bishops of Rome and ancient Constantinople, an event the Orthodox are also awaiting with anticipation…

Israeli cabinet approves ‘Jewish state’ bill (Al Jazeera) The Israeli cabinet has approved a bill declaring Israel a Jewish state in a controversial move seen as intensifying discrimination against Arabs residing in occupied territories. Ministers voted 14-6 in favor of the bill, threatening the unity of the governing coalition. The bill will now be referred to the Knesset, or parliament, where legislators will see it for the first time on Wednesday. The Times of Israel, which described the bill as “controversial,” said cabinet members debated it behind closed doors but their screams were “loud enough for reporters in the hallway to hear much of the discussion…”

Church is a mother without borders, welcoming migrants, pope says (CNS) The Catholic Church “is a mother without limits and without borders,” welcoming and assisting all of God’s children, particularly those fleeing violence, oppression and poverty, Pope Francis said. Addressing the 300 participants in the Vatican-sponsored World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, the pope said the church’s concern for the whole person motivates its material aid to immigrants and refugees, its offer of legal assistance and, especially, its pastoral outreach and offer of the sacraments…

The people of Donetsk trudge along warily under the rebel government (Al Jazeera) A year has passed since the Maidan protests began in Kiev on 21 November and sparked Ukraine’s worst political crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. Within six months of the demonstrations’ start, Ukraine’s eastern industrialized heartland was transformed into a brutal battleground between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels declaring independence. Donetsk, a rebel stronghold, has been the center of what Kiev, the United States and the European Union say is a Russian-supported rebellion. Pundits say the conflict threatens to create a new cold war between the West and Russia…

Pope: Syro-Malabar Sts. Kuriakose Elias and Euphrasia are examples (VIS) This morning Pope Francis met with a group of faithful of Syro-Malabar Catholics, gathered in Rome for the canonization on Sunday of Kuriakose Elias Chavara of the Holy Family, and Euphrasia Eluvathingal of the Sacred Heart. The Holy Father took the opportunity to thank the church in India, and specifically in Kerala, for “all its apostolic strength and for the witness of faith you have,” he said…

Tags: Ukraine Israel Ecumenism Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

21 November 2014
CNEWA staff

CNEWA’s Ra’ed Bahou meets with refugees at a temporary shelter in northern Iraq.
(photo: CNEWA)

Thursday, Canadian government officials got a powerful glimpse into the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Syria.

Carl Hétu, the head of CNEWA’s Canada office, and Rev. Elias D. Mallon, CNEWA’s external affairs officer, were invited by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the Canadian House of Commons to give testimony on the situation in Iraq and Syria. The testimony was part of a study “on the response of the Canadian government to the horrific violence, religious persecution and dislocation perpetrated in Iraq, Syria and the region by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”

Father Elias began by underlining the historical instability of the region and the artificial nature of many of the countries which were created by the French and British after World War I. As Father Elias explained, the authoritarian regimes which have held these countries together were, for any number of reasons, incapable of doing that any longer. He said that situation has created a vacuum in which the most violent elements can find space todevelop and further destabilize society.

Mr. Hétu spoke of the immense humanitarian crisis in the area. He outlined how CNEWA has been providing emergency relief to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, as well as to others who are suffering from the incredible violence in the region. Mr. Hétu explained where CNEWA raises its funds and how these funds are used for humanitarian relief in the region. Both men stressed that while the immediate needs were overwhelming, it would be a mistake to overlook the long term needs. All the aid in the world, they emphasized, cannot return the region to the status quo ante, the way things used to be. As Father Elias noted, a new, participatory and pluralistic society in the region must be encouraged and supported. The concepts of civil society, citizenship and participatory democracy have not developed in most places in the Middle East, he said, and this must occur if there is ever to be a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Middle East.

“Only a society build on these principles,” Mr. Hétu added, “can guarantee full participation and protection of the small and vulnerable Chrisitan communities and others like the Yezidi.” This is the only place in our world, he noted, that has Suni, Shiite, Chrisitans, Druze, Jewish and many other groups in living close to one another. This diversity needs to be preserved, he said, if there is going to be peace.

CNEWA staff from the Middle East recently completed a visit to Iraqi refugees. You can read a full report of the situation on the ground at this link.

The needs remain great and urgent. To learn how you can help, please visit this giving page.

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