11 August 2014
Smoke rises in the Gaza Strip after an Israeli strike on 8 August.
(photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
The National Catholic Register this week has some very good insight into the ongoing crisis in Gaza — and the toll it is taking on the people there:
“Gaza was in a very difficult, potentially full-blown, humanitarian crisis situation six weeks before the conflict,” said Matt McGarry, country representative for Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza at Catholic Relief Services, speaking to the Register from Gaza City.
“There are 1.8 million people that live in this tiny little stretch of land without the capacity to grow enough food to support itself on a tiny, contaminated aquifer. We can’t get in or out or sail more than three miles off of the coast. And this is not a new situation, but one that has grown over quite some time,” he said.
“We and other organizations said [Gaza] is really kind of perched on the edge of a potentially humanitarian crisis, and
[it] wouldn’t take much to push it over. And with the fighting in the last month being intense, it has emphatically pushed the situation into a full-on humanitarian crisis.”
...Michael La Civita, communications director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), said that unless Gaza is lifted out of its economic misery and freedom of movement for its people restored, the region is headed for a conflict that would make the present struggle between Hamas and Israel “look like a sandlot fight.”
“You’re basically talking about a strip of land that is smaller than Manhattan, which is densely populated with almost no infrastructure,” he said.
Gaza City’s playground “Friendship Park” was a donation from CNEWA after one of its donors saw how the children were playing in trash heaps and open sewers.
“It was something that did not exist there: grass, swings, things of that nature,” he said. The playground has survived the bombings of Gaza, but not the massive use it has received from the children of Gaza, and it will need to be replaced soon.
But despite that small local improvement, La Civita stressed that the “situation has only gotten worse, not better,” under the blockade. Moreover, Hamas was not starved out, and the crushing poverty is radicalizing people to the point where Hamas — which the U.S. State Department has officially designated as a terrorist organization — appears to be losing its grip over other extremist groups that La Civita says made Hamas look moderate.
“If there is going to be a political solution, there first has to be an economic solution,” he said, noting that former Israeli President Shimon Peres made that same prediction back in 2003, when he was foreign minister, during the Oslo Accords.
“A vast majority of people affected by this are innocent men, women, children and elderly, and they are civilians,” he said. “And they have nothing to do with this.”
Although they number less than 3,000 people, he said the Christians in Gaza have been in the forefront of aiding people devastated by the violence. Catholic and non-Catholic agencies have been meeting regularly, coordinating their efforts and discussing how best to serve the people and not duplicate their services.
Said La Civita, “It’s important to understand that, in the middle of all this, the Church is a beacon of hope.”
There is much more to read and absorb. Visit this link to read it all.
Meantime, the organization EWASH (Emergency Water and Sanitation/Hygiene) in the occupied Palestinian territory offers some sobering statistics:
- 1.8 million people in Gaza have limited access to water—or no access at all, and the number is growing.
- 90% of wells, waste water treatment plants and desalination plants cannot operate due to power cuts and lack of fuel.
- 90% of water from the Coastal Aquifer is unfit for human consumption.
Check out more at this graphic at the EWASH website.
And to learn how you can help the people of Gaza, visit this page.
11 August 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Hunger Water
Emil, a Catholic Iraqi refugee, hides his face during a posed photo at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Beirut on 8 August. The resident of Mosul, Iraq, fled his hometown with family members after receiving threats from Islamic State militants. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)
11 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I speaks to the media after a meeting with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, in Najaf on 9 August. (photo: CNS/Alaa al Marjani, Reuters)
Alarming refugee situation points to severity of disaster (Chaldean Patriarchate) Refugee families face a choice. Migration: Where and do they have the necessary documents and money? Staying: In the halls and in the refugee camps, waiting the summer to end and winter to come? Will the schools be reopened and will their children go to elementary schools, high schools or colleges? Will they be welcomed in the schools in Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah? What is the future of the properties and belongings, along with the jobs, of these thousands of innocent people forced to fee overnight from their dear villages? These are questions that should stir the conscience of every person and organization to act…
Pope Francis: Angelus appeal for peace in Iraq, Gaza (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis renewed his call for prayer and concrete assistance for the suffering populations of Iraq this Sunday. Addressing the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the traditional Angelus prayer, the pope also offered prayerful appeals for an end to the fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in Gaza, and for the victims of the Ebola outbreak and for all those fighting to stop it…
Iraq: US plans rescue mission for besieged Yazidi refugees (The Guardian) The United States is exploring options to evacuate thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq by Islamic militants after four nights of humanitarian relief airdrops, officials in Washington said. At least half of the 40,000 people besieged by jihadists on Mount Sinjar had escaped by Sunday night, aided by Kurdish rebels who crossed from Syria to rescue them…
Fresh ceasefire agreement holds in Gaza (Al Jazeera) A new 72-hour ceasefire has held into Monday morning in the Gaza Strip, raising hopes for a fresh respite in a bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas that has devastated the Palestinian enclave. The truce was agreed after Egypt said it had received “simultaneous consensus” from both sides for the truce, which began Sunday evening…
Egypt’s Pope Tawadros urges Sisi to continue church restoration (Copts United) Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros and leaders of other Egyptian Christian churches have urged Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al Sisi to continue to support the restoration of churches damaged in anti-Coptic assaults reportedly by supporters of ousted president Muhammad Morsi in August of 2013, a month after the ouster of the Islamist president…
Farmer suicides reflect growing desperation in rural India (Los Angeles Times) About every 30 minutes in India, a farmer commits suicide. Since 1995, the first year the government began keeping detailed records, about 300,000 farmers have taken their lives. The 2011 census found that the suicide rate for farmers was 47 percent higher than the national average. The suicides are a well-known phenomenon in India, where newspapers regularly carry stories about farmers — almost always men — taking their lives by hanging, drowning or ingesting pesticides. Yet there are few programs to provide farm families with the psychological support that experts say they need to relieve the worries of rural life…
Israeli Supreme Court rules on separation wall in the Cremisan Valley (Society of St. Yves) The Israeli Supreme Court announced its decision on the route of the separation wall in the Cremisan valley in Beit Jala, following the hearing held on 4 August 2014. The court decided Israel must take into consideration different possibilities by which both Salesian convents in Cremisan are taken in and included within the Palestinian side of the wall. The court gave Israel until 4 September to respond to its decision…
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq India Iraqi Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict Iraqi Refugees
A woman and several children who fled from violence in Nineveh province in Iraq, arrive in a covered truck at Sulaimaniya province on 8 August. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
This morning, I spoke with a member of the San Egidio Community in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil, who has been very active in responding to the needs of displaced Christian families.
He informed me that most of the 80,000 Christians displaced from the towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Qaramlesh spent the night in Erbil, outside the churches in the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa.
He also informed me that the Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches are collaborating and there is an effort to create an emergency unit that includes Chaldean Catholics as well.
He mentioned that at present the United Nations has started to build two camps for Christian refugees in Erbil and Dohuc. They will install 5,000 tents in each camp, and will provide enough mattresses and covers, in addition to food rations, for each family.
According to him, the most urgent need is medical care and medication, especially for the chronically ill.
He promised to keep us updated with whatever statistics he can get about the needs and the proper ways to respond to the needs.
Visit this page to learn how you can support Christian refugees under siege in Iraq.
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
Displaced people are seen resting on the ground at an area in Duhok, Iraq, on 7 August. (photo: CNS/courtesy Christian Aid Program)
The Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, vice chair of the CNEWA Board of Directors in Canada, has asked Canadians to provide concrete help to Iraq’s Christians, who have been targeted by militants of the Islamic State.
The recent attacks on Christian communities in Mosul and Qaraqosh have been among the most disturbing acts of violence committed against religious minorities on Iraqi soil. “Islamist extremists, intent on eliminating any trace of Christianity, have cast out tens of thousands of Christians, a people with an almost 2,000-year history in the region,” Cardinal Collins said in his letter.
In his call for action, Cardinal Collins urges the Canadian government to play a greater role in crisis resolution and to expand available spaces for Iraqi Christians seeking asylum in Canada.
The Archdiocese of Toronto has been playing a leading role in assisting Iraqi Christians and it is the largest private sponsor of Middle East refugees to Canada. In 2010, Cardinal Collins himself sponsored an Iraqi family resettling in Canada.
Cardinal Collins announced this week that all funds received for the assistance of Iraqi Christians by the archdiocese will be delivered to the Middle East through CNEWA’s network.
The cardinal’s statement is below:
Statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto,
re: Iraqi Christians
Far away from the comfort of our television screens, tablets and newspapers, a tragedy continues to unfold in Iraq. Islamist extremists, intent on eliminating any trace of Christianity, have cast out tens of thousands of Christians, a people with an almost 2,000-year history in the region.
Shortly after I began my mission as Archbishop of Toronto, 7 years ago, the Archbishop of Mosul visited me and shared his hopes for caring for his community. He wanted to build a little school, and we tried to help him. He also told me of what his people were suffering even then. Now Mosul, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, is devoid of any trace of Christianity. Churches have been desecrated and destroyed. Families have been told they must convert to Islam or die.
Scenes unfold daily of residents forced to flee their homes, stripped of their possessions, right down to the crosses around their necks, while others are murdered, martyrs literally laying down their lives for their faith. In 2003, there were an estimated one million Christians in Iraq; some suggest that no more than 150,000 remain today.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that this persecution could be considered a “crime against humanity.” Iraqi Christians have been begging the world to help them. It is fair to question whether the world is listening?
From a distance, we ask ourselves, what to do? It is good that our Prime Minister has condemned this violence in Iraq. We can urge the Canadian government to use its full diplomatic influence to support the demands of the Archbishops of Mosul, led by His Beatitude Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I. These faith leaders have urged the Iraqi national government to:
Provide full protection of all religious rights and those of other minorities who wish to remain in their homeland.
Offer financial support for displaced families who have lost everything.
Compensate victims for damages and losses suffered by Christians, providing immediate shelter and educational facilities to those forced now to live in refugee camps.
In Canada, I appeal to our government to expand available spaces for Iraqi Christians seeking refuge in our country, and to remove any bureaucratic impediments to their reception. The Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, through the generosity of our parishes, has sponsored 820 refugees from the Middle East, many Iraqi Christians, over the past three years. As the largest Canadian private sponsor of refugees from the region, we stand ready to welcome more, with parishes mobilized to facilitate sponsorship and settlement at a moment’s notice. Let us accelerate the process at once.
We would do well to follow the lead of countries, like France, that have announced publicly their intention to provide asylum for those who are persecuted. Canada should take immediate action to provide a safe haven for those forced to flee their homeland. In Iraq, religious freedom is not just being tested; it is being assaulted.
As always, we join in prayer and solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq. In the words of Pope Francis, “Violence will not win over violence. Violence is won over by peace!”
Let us pray for an authentic peace in Iraq and in so many other troubled places in the world.
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Canada
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.
Tags: Pope Francis CNEWA Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims CNEWA Canada