5 September 2014
Sister Maria Goretti Hanna, O.P., and Good Shepherd Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf meet with workers creating shelters for refugees in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNEWA)
Today, we received a letter from our good friend, Sister Maria Goretti Hanna, O.P., Prioress General of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq. We’ve worked closely with her and her order in Iraq and Jordan for decades; just this week, our CNEWA staff spent time with her assessing needs and meeting with refugees during their visit to Erbil, Iraq.
In her letter, Sister Maria wanted to express her gratitude for all we have been able to do, and described in more detail some of what is happening on the ground and the specific challenges the Iraqi people are facing.
Sister Maria wrote:
St. Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians, “And when I arrive, I will send any whom you approve with letters to take your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me,” (1 Cor 16: 3-4).
We feel that we are like the new church of Jerusalem that is going through hardship, but many other churches around the world are offering their helping hand in different ways. We thank [you] for the visit to Ain Kawa. Thank you for your prayers, concerns, and thoughtfulness and for your financial help. Thanks you for accompanying us.
It was a pleasure to meet the three kind delegates: Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf, Michel Constantin and Imad Abou Jaoude. We felt that their visit expressed total solidarity with our church in need. It was not a visit from a humanitarian organization, but [a visit with a] sincere sense of responsibilities and interests toward members of the one church of Christ. They were easy-going, great listeners and very open to others’ opinions. They came with one purpose which is to attend the immediate needs with regard to projects needed to help the refugees.
After arriving to our convent in Ain Kawa and having a brief meeting, we accompanied the delegates in their visit to the bishops in the area (Archbishop Boutros Moshe, Archbishop Bashar Warda and Archbishop Emil Nona) to discuss the needs and difficulties that are facing the church in Iraq. They were also able to meet with other religious women congregations in the area: Daughters of Mary Chaldean Sisters, Sacred Heart Sisters, Franciscan Sisters, Ephramite Sisters, and the Little Sisters of Jesus.
In the morning of 4 September, the delegates managed to meet members of the religious people (Syriac priests, Dominican Sisters and brothers, Franciscan Sisters, Ephramite Sisters, Rogazionisti Brothers and Jesus the Redeemer Brothers) who are working daily in the refugee camps. These members were able to express their experiences in the refugee centers, the difficulties they face, the needs of refugees, and their concerns about the future of Christians in Iraq. The delegates acknowledged the fact that the sisters and priests are a sign of hope among the people.
After the meeting, they visited a local refugee center and met with people who are in charge of the emergency clinic that has been placed by the Syric church there to meet people’s medical needs. Moreover, they were able to visit and sit with a family that lives in a tent. They were able also to visit Ain Kawa Mall that is being prepared to shelter refugees and also were able to visit Shlama Mall (an unfinished building) and met with many families living in the basement of the building — which is, in fact, a garage.
While at Shlama Mall, they met a family that just arrived from Qaraqosh. The family had been among the 70 hostages in Qaraqosh since the 10th of August (a few days after the exodus from Qaraqosh). The father in the family had been tortured and the mother and the two children (an eight-year-old girl and a boy) had been threatened because they refused to deny their Christian belief and become Muslims. They managed to escape the town when ISIS told them to go back to their homes and stay there.
Having seen and understood our painful reality, the delegates were able to recognize the urgent needs. Visiting a number of refugee centers in the area helped them witness the seriousness of our situation; consequently, they were able to recognize the most immediate things that are needed and in many ways they were in agreement with our opinions in terms of what to do first.
To conclude their visit, the delegates met with us. We discussed some issues and we were able to spotlight the main problems that are facing the refugees and where/how to spend financial assistance that is dedicated to help the Christians refugees. Two things were decided: providing center for the disabled and caravans for the clinic along with a tent. Also, Sister Marie-Claude on behalf of her congregation…offered to help in a special way the homeless women and girls and offered to help the pregnant women who are close to giving birth so they may have healthy and safe environment.We thank them deeply for having the patience to listen to us and to our needs. Their enthusiasm, solidarity and interaction gave us hope that the world had not completely forgotten about us. We look forward to other visits to our region. We are open to accept other offers and suggestions.
Thank you and may God bless you,
Sister Maria Goretti Hanna, O.P.
Prioress General of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena-Iraq
“The solidarity…gave us hope that the world had not completely forgotten about us.” Won’t you help us let the people of Iraq know they are not forgotten? Please remember them in your prayers and with a gift to keep this vital work going. Visit our giving page to contribute. Your generosity today will give the persecuted Christians of Iraq hope for tomorrow, and ensure that the good work of the sisters goes on. Thank you!
5 September 2014
In this image from last month, people displaced by violence stand outside their tent at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Ain Kawa, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Aid to the Church in Need-USA)
The Catholic Register newspaper in Canada recently posted an editorial on the desperate situation in Iraq, and made special mention of CNEWA, noting that “all are called to act”:
The crisis in Iraq will shift from desperate to beyond rescue unless world leaders respond swiftly and decisively to help install order in one of Christiantiy’s most ancient homes.
Yet, despite Iraq receiving the United Nations highest emergency rating, too few leaders have heeded the U.N.’s urgent call for help. The United States and France are providing some weapons and military support, and France has offered asylum to thousands of Iraqi Christians who are fleeing for their lives. Many nations are sending money to buy emergency supplies for tens of thousands of terrorized Iraqis. Canada has added $5 million to a previous $16 million commitment and has offered token military backup. Much more is needed.
In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis urged the international community to intervene to ease Iraq’s “intolerable suffering” and “humanitarian tragedy.” Christians and members of other religious minorities, men, women and children, are being systematically massacred, raped, enslaved and robbed of their homes by radical Sunni Muslims who are intent on violently recasting Iraq and Syria into a fundamentalist Islamic state. Christians are being ordered to convert to Islam or die. Most simply flee.
While he objects to unilateral U.S. military intervention to preserve Iraq’s 2,000-year-old Christian heritage, Pope Francis said U.N.-sanctioned force is justified to stop an unjust aggressor. He appealed to the international community “to do all that it can to stop and prevent systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.”
A papal spokesman went further. Speaking on Vatican radio, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said that when peaceful avenues for justice fail, the UN Charter empowers nations to use “all the force that is necessary to stop this evil and this tragedy.” He called this “a moral imperative” to act. That moral imperative belongs not just to world leaders. It is shared by Christians everywhere who should feel righteous anger at the barbarism overrunning Iraq. We are all called to act.
As Canada’s bishops have urged, Canadians should: pray for peace; demand our politicians speak out zealously to support a safe haven for persecuted minorities and cut red tape for Iraqi war refugees; and, finally, we must help relieve the suffering of war victims through donations to Catholic charities.
So far this year some 1.5 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes. There is an urgent need for food, clean water, cooking materials, blankets, tents, medical supplies and many other essential items. An advertisement on page 10 of this paper explains how to support the heroic efforts of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association to provide shelter in the storm.
The need is great and time is running out.
5 September 2014
Women sit on a street in front of their house in Donetsk, Ukraine, on 3 September. A cease-fire went into effect today, while a Ukrainian Catholic church leader urged Western governments to use “all available means” to curb Russian military interference.
(photo: CNS/Maxim Shemetov, Reuters)
5 September 2014
In the video above, a representative for the U.S. bishops underscores the need for a nonviolent resolution in Ukraine. (video: from CNS)
Cease-fire signed to halt fighting in Ukraine (BBC) The Ukrainian government and pro-Russia rebels have signed a truce deal to end almost five months of fighting. The two sides, meeting in the Belarusian capital Minsk, agreed to stop firing at 15:00 GMT. President Petro Poroshenko said he would do "everything possible" to end the bloodshed. The rebels said the truce had not changed their policy of advocating separation from Ukraine...
Ukrainian Catholic leader: West must help stop Russian inteference (CNS) A Ukrainian church leader said Western governments need to use “all available means” to curb Russian military interference. “Every right-thinking European should realize that what’s happening here has worldwide implications,” said Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh, secretary-general of the Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops. “Besides raping all international law, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is also showing the kind of security the world can expect from a nuclear-armed Russia. He will go as far as he’s allowed to go...”
An estimated 400,000 children need psychological care in Gaza (Fides) In Gaza, 400,000 children and young adults need psychological care to alleviate the effects of the last three conflicts which affected the people of Gaza in the past six years. This is affirmed by Caritas Jerusalem, quoting United Nations sources, in the latest report on its activity. “Boys and girls” — we read in the dossier — “represent the part of the population which suffers most the consequences of armed conflict. The majority experience the separation of families and develop a pessimistic vision of life...”
Mass grave uncovered in Iraq (Associated Press) A series of attacks across Iraq on Friday killed 17 people, including four Shiite militiamen and a Sunni tribal chief, while a mass grave in the north was found to contain the bodies of 15 Shiite truck drivers killed by Sunni militants. Police officials said the deadliest attack happened when a car bomb went off on a commercial street in Baghdad’s mainly Shiite Zafaraniyah district, killing seven people and wounding 15 others. Several shops were damaged...
Flooded refugee camp in Ethiopia to close (Associated Press) Doctors Without Borders says a camp in Ethiopia hosting 40,000 refugees from South Sudan is flooded from heavy rains and that it must be abandoned. The medical charity said in a statement Friday that the Lietchuor refugee camp in Ethiopia’s Gambella region resembles “a lake dotted with islands.” It said newly constructed mud huts for the refugees are completely flooded and that most patients seen in the camp are suffering from malaria and respiratory infections...
4 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Russia
Refugees who fled from violence in Mosul, Iraq, receive humanitarian aid on 21 August in Dohuk province in Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo: CNS/EPA)
This coming Saturday, 6 September, residents of Canada’s capital and the surrounding areas will be gathering from 1 to 3 P.M. on Parliament Hill to raise awareness of and support for Christians and other religious minorities experiencing persecution in Iraq.
If you are in the area, please come and join us! In these two hours we will have a chance to pray, to listen and to look for ways to help those who suffer.
Among the event’s speakers will be Ottawa’s Archbishop Terrence Prendergast and Carl Hétu, CNEWA Canada’s national director, as well as representatives of Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities.
More information about the rally can be found at this link.
Meantime, please help with a gift to save Iraqi Christians. Visit this page to learn what you can do.
4 September 2014
CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, left, surveys the damage to a high-rise building shelled in Gaza. (photo: CNEWA)
We received an email this morning from Sami El-Yousef, our regional director for Palestine and Israel, describing what he has seen thus far in Gaza as part of a needs assessment for CNEWA. He included the picture above and a brief message:
Overwhelming visit, to say the least. But so many encouraging signs of our Christian community and Christian institutions and churches rising to the occasion — providing quality services during the active war. CNEWA should be so proud to be part of it all.
There is much CNEWA is doing, helping those who have been left physically shattered and traumatized. But there is so much more that needs to be done. To help those who are suffering in Gaza, visit this giving page.
4 September 2014
Pope Francis welcomes former Israeli President Shimon Peres during their meeting at the Vatican on 4 September. The former president asked Pope Francis to head a parallel United Nations called the “United Religions” to counter religious extremism.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via EPA)
Shimon Peres: Pope should lead a “United Religions” body to counter extremism (CNS) Former Israeli President Shimon Peres asked Pope Francis to head a parallel United Nations called the “United Religions” to counter religious extremism in the world today. “In the past, most wars were motivated by the idea of nationhood. Today, however, wars are incited above all using religion as an excuse,” Peres told the Catholic magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, ahead of a papal meeting on 4 September. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, confirmed that Peres, who ended his presidential term in July, had requested the meeting and told the Pope about his idea. The Pope, however, did not commit himself to the proposal...
Christians in Syria collect aid for Yazidis (Fides) It lasted only 72 hours, but was of great symbolic value: a popular campaign by Christians to collect food, drugs and clothing in the Syrian city of Qamishli to help Yazidi people who fled Iraq and found refuge in Syrian territory close to a refugee camp in Newroz...
Iraqi Christian woman describes kidnapping of her child by militants (CNS) An Iraqi Christian woman has described how her 3-year-old daughter was abducted by Islamist terrorists. Christina Khider Abada was seated beside her mother, Ayda Abada, on a bus when captors from the Islamic State snatched her and took her away. According to an account by the mother, who followed her daughter off the bus, the crying child was passed from one militant to another while Ayda Abada begged for her to be returned. Finally, the terrorists pointed guns in the face of the mother and told her to get back on the bus or they would kill her. Fellow refugee Sahar Mansour interviewed Ayda Abada and her husband, Khider Abada, as they circulated pictures of their daughter in Ain Kawa refugee camp, near Erbil, Iraq, in the hope of gaining information about the toddler’s whereabouts...
Russia warns Ukraine against joining NATO (Washington Post) The Kremlin on Thursday underscored Russia’s opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine, warning that such a move could derail efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as leaders of the alliance gathered for a key summit in Wales. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also told the United States not to try to impose its own will on Kiev...
Chaldean patriarch blasts Iraqi government (ByzCath.org) The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church has renewed his criticism of the Iraqi government and the international community for their failure to address the persecution of Iraq’s Christians. “The curtains have been drawn on the painful events, and 120,000 Christians are uprooted from their historical homeland because the political Islam does not want them there, and the world is silent, standing still, either because it approves or because it is incapable of acting,” said Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako. “The suffering of the displaced Christians and other minorities is mounting: their needs are escalating and their fears of an unknown future of their shocked children, seized towns, and looted houses keep them sleepless,” he added...
3 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Israel Russia
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.