18 August 2014
CNEWA has been a consistent source of support for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, here shown helping a patient in the Al Jamh-Al Zahrawi hospital in Mosul, Iraq, in 2004.
To alleviate the suffering of some 100,000 homeless Iraqi Christians, Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA, is rushing $75,000 to partners in northern Iraq for urgently needed supplies for infants and children, as well as sanitary facilities for displaced families seeking shelter in U.N.-sponsored camps.
“The response of our donor public to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Iraq has been overwhelming,” Msgr. Kozar said of the CNEWA campaign launched in North America. “These funds represent that generosity, and are an initial installment to help the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic archbishops meet the most basic needs of their homeless flock.”
Ordered by fighters of the extremist group ISIS to convert, pay protection money or die, about 20,000 Christian families fled their villages in the Nineveh Plain for refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this summer. They arrived in Dohuk and Erbil with little more than a change of clothes, leaving behind their homes, belongings, jobs and businesses. Some found shelter in churches, convents, monasteries and schools, but most have found space in schoolyards, open to the searing summer heat and the blazing sun.
Msgr. Kozar said the emergency approach of Catholic Near East Welfare Association will encompass several phases, and will incorporate, as appropriate, CNEWA’s ongoing commitment to the churches of Iraq. This includes, among other activities, support for Catholic hospitals in Baghdad and care for endangered children.
“Diapers and milk for infants and children are not included in the food packages distributed by the United Nations and other relief organizations,” said Msgr. Kozar. “Also, our partners on the ground tell us portable sanitary facilities — toilets and showers — that can accommodate those with special needs are desperately needed. These funds will help secure these basic needs.
“In addition to providing assistance to those hunkered down in northern Iraq, our staff in Amman and Beirut is already working with the local churches in Jordan and Lebanon, respectively, where hundreds of Iraqi Christian families have just arrived, to assess and prioritize needs.
“CNEWA takes seriously its mission to accompany the church — even in flight — and to respond to the needs of all people, especially the poor and marginalized,” Msgr. Kozar said. “And thanks to our generous friends and benefactors, we can build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue and instill hope.”
An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to refugee families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the children, elderly and disabled; and offering formation and supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders.
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18 August 2014
Tags: Iraq CNEWA Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
Msgr. John Kozar chats with the Rev. Volodymyr Malchyn, Deacon Greg Kandra and Father Volodymyr’s wife Olena in the CNEWA offices in New York (photo: CNEWA).
This morning, a couple of visitors from Ukraine stopped by our New York offices: the Rev. Volodymyr Malchyn of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and his wife, Olena. Father Volodymyr — vice chancellor of the curia of the major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, Sviatoslav Shevchuk — hosted Msgr. John Kozar when CNEWA’s president visited Ukraine last year for the dedication of the new cathedral.
Our conversation this morning was an opportunity to get fresh news on what is happening in Ukraine. We reported extensively on the uprisings in Kiev last winter, and the world has been watching with some anxiety as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has only intensified.
Father Volodymyr told us that the Maidan in downtown Kiev is a very different place today from what it was last winter. The square has been cleaned out and has returned to being a busy crossroads, not a place of protest. But it’s also become a tourist destination. Visitors to Kiev are eager to see the spot that was the epicenter of last winter’s uprisings.
He described to us a country that is undergoing something of a renaissance — and a conversion of spirit.
”We stood shoulder to shoulder and all who loved their country have come together. Ukrainians are coming together more and more,” he said. “The country is undergoing a cleansing. There’s a cancer of corruption that developed over time, and this [the protests] is like a surgery that is needed to cleanse the country.”
Father Volodymyr was in the United States on 11 September 2001, and he told us he saw parallels between the atmosphere in the United States then and in Ukraine last winter. “There was a similar spirit of unity and compassion,” he said, and he described Ukraine today as undergoing a “spiritual revolution.”
Women gather inside a chapel on 18 August at a temporary tent camp set up for Ukrainian refugees near the Russian-Ukrainian border. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated on 15 August that 155,800 Ukrainians had been displaced by fighting, more than 2,000 people had been killed since mid-April and another 5,000 had been injured. (photo: CNS/Alexander Demianchuk)
“The heart of the Ukrainian people is faith,” he said, “and the heart of our faith is our liturgical tradition.” It is a tradition he and many others are working to keep alive not only in his own country, but throughout the world.
Despite the difficulties his homeland is facing now, Father Volodymyr sees a future of possibility and hope. More people, he said, are rediscovering their faith, drawing closer to Christ, and realizing their innate dignity.
“What happened in the Maidan,” he said, “was a pilgrimage from fear to dignity. We call it a ‘Revolution of Dignity.’ ”
18 August 2014
Tags: Ukraine CNEWA Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard the papal flight from Seoul, South Korea, to Rome on 18 August. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis once again took questions from reporters on the airplane en route back to Rome, and he made some news:
Pope Francis said the use of force can be justified to stop “unjust aggressors” such as Islamic State militants in northeastern Iraq, but he declined to endorse U.S. military airstrikes against the militants and said such humanitarian interventions should not be decided on by any single country.
The pope also said he was willing to travel to the war zone if necessary to stop the violence.
Pope Francis made his remarks 18 Aug. during an hourlong inflight news conference on his way back from South Korea.
In response to other questions, the pope acknowledged a need to lighten his work schedule for the sake of his health; said he might make a combined visit to the U.S. and Mexico in 2015; and explained why the Vatican is still studying whether the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero should be beatified as a martyr.
The pope’s words on Iraq came a week after his representative in Baghdad welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision to use military force against Islamic State positions.
Asked about the airstrikes 11 Aug. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio: “This is something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped.”
That statement surprised many because, since the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the Vatican has stressed that military interventions for humanitarian purposes should have the support of the international community.
When a reporter on the plane asked Pope Francis whether he approved of the airstrikes, he replied:
“In these cases where there is unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ’stop’; I don’t say bomb, make war — stop him. The means by which he may be stopped should be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit, but we nevertheless need to remember how many times, using this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor, the powerful nations have dominated other peoples, made a real war of conquest. A single nation cannot judge how to stop this, how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there arose the idea of the United Nations. That is where we should discuss: ‘Is there an unjust aggressor? It seems there is. How do we stop him?’ But only that, nothing more.”
The pope said his recent appeal to the U.N. to “take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway in Iraq” was one of a series of measures he had considered with Vatican officials, including his decision to send Cardinal Fernando Filoni to the region to meet with church and government officials and refugees.
“In the end we said, should it be necessary, when we get back from Korea I can go there,” he said. “At this moment it is not the best thing to do, but I am willing.”
He had much more to say about war, his health, and his upcoming travel schedule. Read it all.
18 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis War
In this image from July, Christians fleeing the violence in Mosul sleep inside Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif, Iraq. For some, that was the beginning of a long and dangerous journey. Last week, the first Christian refugees began arriving in Jordan. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Christian refugees are beginning to pour into Jordan, describing the world they left behind:
The first Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic State militants reached the safety of Jordan, helped by King Abdullah II and Catholic aid groups.
“Our money has run out,” said an Iraqi Catholic woman, Um Muwataz, as tears streamed down her face.
“The Islamic State put a big red Arabic letter ’N’ on our home, claiming the house as their property. We had no other choice but to flee, first to the northern Kurdish city of Irbil and now here to Jordan. We’ve spent our last penny,” the former teacher said, her body tensing.
“N” is the first letter of an Arabic word for Christian, “Nasrani” or Nazarene.
“Never in my life could I imagine such a thing happening to us, Christians,” she told Catholic News Service.
Um Muwataz and her family of four managed to fly to Amman from Irbil with about 100 Iraqi Christians from Mosul, Qaraqosh, and surrounding Christian villages, beginning 13 August.
But she said she was concerned for her married daughter and the rest of the family stuck in Irbil, because the young woman’s 6-month-old twins do not have Iraqi passports. Nor they can return to Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, to apply for these travel documents.
Ra’ed Bahou, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, told CNS that about 1,000 Iraqi Christians from the Mosul area were expected to enter Jordan under special arrangements by King Abdullah.
Caritas, the Catholic Church’s humanitarian nongovernmental aid agency, is among the organizations assisting the refugees at a Catholic facility outside Amman by providing food, water and lodging.
They are the latest wave of Iraqi refugees seeking shelter in Jordan, which is still hosting 300,000 Iraqis from the 2003 U.S.-led war. At the height of the conflict, Jordan hosted some 1.5 million Iraqis.
“Since 2003, we have been suffering,” said a refugee who identified himself as Safwan, a 43-year-old engineer. “But this is the biggest suffering yet to befall us. Never in the past 1,700 years has there been no Christian presence at all in Mosul.”
Safwan said he, his 8-months-pregnant wife and two young sons escaped Mosul twice: first, when the area came under Islamic State bombardment in June; in early July they snuck out of the city.
“We left but heard that those who fled after us unfortunately had their cars, gold, money, even baby’s pampers and milk stolen from them by the Islamic State militants,” he said.
Safwan said it was impossible to remain in Mosul with the militants imposing Islamic law, or Shariah, demanding Christians either convert to Islam, pay a “protection” tax or leave.
He said he feared his wife could be taken from him as rumors were rife of the extremists kidnapping and selling some women, both Christians and Yezidis, another religious minority fleeing for their lives.
To support Iraqi Christians under seige, please visit this page.
18 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees
A demonstrator marches with crutches outside the U.S. consulate in Erbil, Iraq, on 11 August. The pope’s envoy to the region, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, said people still do not know what will become of terrorized Christians. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
Chaldean Patriarch, papal envoy appeal for international aid (Vatican Radio) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I has issued a communiqué concerning the visit of Pope Francis’ personal envoy to Iraq, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, and calling on the international organizations who “take their moral responsibilities seriously” to assist the people of Iraq…
Papal envoy to Iraq meets displaced Christians and Yazidis (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ personal envoy in Iraq, Cardinal Ferdinando Filoni says the displaced people he’s met during his current tour of northern Iraq are calling for immediate assistance from the international community before it’s too late…
Aleppo’s Christians in Syrian crossfire (Al Monitor) While the dire situation of Iraq’s Yazidis provoked United States military intervention against the Islamic State and nonstop media coverage, Aleppo’s Christians fear they are the war’s forgotten victims…
Fate of Gaza truce in balance as toll tops 2,000 (Daily Star Lebanon) The Gaza death toll rose over 2,000 Monday as the clock ticked towards a midnight deadline and negotiators in Cairo strove to hammer out a decisive end to weeks of bloodshed. As millions in and around Gaza enjoyed an eighth day of calm brought on by two back-to-back truce agreements, tensions were once again on the rise ahead of a new deadline ending a five-day cease-fire, which expires tonight. But there was little sign of any workable consensus emerging…
Ukrainian Orthodox Church urges gunmen in eastern Ukraine to lay down arms (Interfax) The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate has expressed concern about the escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine and called on members of illegal armed groups to surrender…
Egypt cracks down on human rights groups (Al Monitor) On 12 August, a special delegation from Human Rights Watch was to visit Cairo. However, Egypt’s government had other plans. The organization was to deliver a briefing alongside the release of its comprehensive report on the Egyptian security forces’ “clearance” of Rabia al Adawiya and other Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins last year that resulted in the deaths of at least 1,150 people…
14 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank
An Iraqi Christian refugee rests at St. Joseph’s Church in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 8 August. Witnesses claim refugees are dying in the crowded camps. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
Let me start with the Iraqi Christian refugees in Lebanon. I met with Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji today, who informed me that he has received the past few days around 190 new Chaldean families from Iraq, and it seems the Lebanese authority is granting tourist visas to Iraqis at their arrival at the Beirut airport.
He expects a major influx of Christian Iraqi refugees into Lebanon in the coming few weeks; many of the families who fled their homes are in the process of getting valid passports. Once they have passports, family members in the West secure plane tickets for them to head to Beirut. At their arrival, Bishop Kassarji provides each family (only once) with a food and hygiene package, mattresses and covers. Syriac Catholic Father Hanna Yako confirmed that some 250 Syriac Catholic families have also arrived in Lebanon from Iraq, also carrying tourist visas.
These families need basic items, such food and water, sanitary products, medicines and nursing formula. Those with chronic health problems (diabetes, heart ailments, etc.) need immediate attention.
As for the general situation of the Christians inside Iraq, I spoke with a Chaldean priest who served in a parish near Mosul, and who is visiting Beirut to see his family, who are emigrating West. Father Aram explained to us that the last wave of displacement of Christians in northern Iraq happened as follows:
Within the Chaldean Archeparchy of Mosul, which includes Chaldean Catholics of Mosul, Tal Keif and Qaramlesh, more than 2,000 families fled their homes to find refuge in the Kurdish towns of Zakho, Duhoc and Erbil.
In the Syriac Catholic Archeparchy of Mosul, which includes Mosul, Qaraqosh, Bartella and Baashiqa, more than 11,000 families were displaced to Kurdish towns. More than 9,000 of these displaced families are Syriac Catholics. The rest belong to Assyrian Church of the East or the Chaldean Catholic or Syriac Orthodox churches.
In the Chaldean eparchy of Al Qosh, which includes Al Qosh, Tal Eskef, Batnaya, Baaqoufa and Jambour villages, the ISIS militants have occupied all villages — except Al Qosh. As a matter of fact, ISIS approached the town, but didn’t occupy it yet. At present, Al Qosh is the demarcation line between the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) and ISIS. From this eparchy, 5,000 Chaldean families left for Kurdistan.
Together with the estimated 5,000 families who fled Mosul earlier this summer, some 23,000 Iraqi Christian families, about 120,000 people — have fled the wave of violence on the Nineveh Plain, a cradle of Christianity in Mesopotamia.
Given the large number of refugees and their great needs, our partners have urged us to help them secure up to three months’ supply of infant formula and regular milk for children, which is not included in the food packages distributed by international aid organizations thus far.
Basic medical care is also desperately needed: A team of doctors, who are volunteering their work in coordination with the local church, are pleading for basic medical equipment.
Please help us to help our brothers and sisters in need, and provide them with the basic necessities that can keep them alive.
Visit this page to learn how.
14 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief Chaldean Church
Pope Francis reacts as he learns that Simone Camilli, a video journalist for The Associated Press, was killed in Gaza, as he greets media aboard the papal flight from Rome to Seoul, South Korea, on 13 August. Speaking at right is Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The world follows the Pope wherever he goes, and news of one stricken part of the world reached him as he flew to South Korea:
Greeting reporters accompanying him to Korea 13 August, Pope Francis mourned an Italian video journalist killed earlier the same day in the Gaza Strip and urged journalists to serve as messengers of peace.
The pope listened with a bowed head and grave expression as Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, recounted the fate of Simone Camilli, who worked for The Associated Press.
Camilli and a freelance Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were killed along with three Palestinian policemen who were attempting to defuse unexploded ordnance left over from Israeli-Hamas fighting. Four other people, including an AP photographer, were badly injured.
Pope Francis then led the journalists in 30 seconds of silent prayer for Camilli.
“These are the consequences of war, that’s the way it is,” he said afterward.
“May your words always help unite us with the world,” the pope told about 70 journalists who accompanied him on the flight to South Korea. “I implore you, always send this message of peace, try to give a word of peace.”
14 August 2014
Displaced people fleeing violence in Sinjar, Iraqi, take refuge at Dohuk province on 7 August. (photo: CNS/Ari Jalal, Reuters)
Iraqi Christians ‘dying in crowded refugee camps’ (Catholic Herald) Iraqi Christians driven from their homes by Islamic State fighters are beginning to die in crowded camps, witnesses have claimed. Sahar Mansour, 40, who lectured in chemistry at the University of Mosul before she fled the city in June, said newborn babies, the sick and the elderly in the Ain Kawa refugee camp on the outskirts of Erbil are dying from diseases, thirst and malnutrition. The same claim was made by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad, who said in an 11 August statement that “death and sickness are grabbing the children and elderly people among the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan region…”
Clashes continue in Iraq as the displaced seek shelter (Vatican Radio) Clashes between Iraqi troops and Sunni militants west of Baghdad on Thursday killed at least four children. It happened as the United Nations announced its highest level of emergency for Iraq’s humanitarian crisis in the wake of the onslaught by the extremist Islamic State group. Since their blitz offensive in June, the Al Qaeda-breakaway group has overrun much of Iraq’s north and west and driven out hundreds of thousands from their homes…
Yazidis still reported trapped on mountain in northern Iraq (Washington Post) Kurdish officials and Yazidi refugees said Thursday that thousands of desperate Yazidis remain trapped on a mountain in northwestern Iraq, even as the Pentagon appeared to back away from launching a rescue mission to save them…
Coexisting: Christians open church doors to displaced Palestinians in Gaza (Al Bawaba) At the height of the displacement crisis at the beginning of August, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that only just over half of all the displaced were in U.N. shelters. The shelters, meant to hold around 500 people each, were stretched far beyond capacity and were holding an average of 2,800. It was up to ordinary Gazans to deal with the overflow, and dozens of organizations like al-Najd as well as religious institutions and ordinary people worked overtime to provide for the displaced as much as possible. The St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church in Gaza’s Old City was another crucial place of refuge for thousands of Gazans. The church provided refuge for more than 3,000 people during the worst days of the Israeli bombardment, hosting 800 in the church itself and 2,500 in shops and homes in the surrounding community…
Evacuation of refugees organized at Donetsk Gorlovka cathedral (Interfax) With the blessing of Archbishop Mitrophan of Gorlovka and Slavyansk, the Gorlovka Eparchy has organized evacuation of refuges departing from the Epiphany Cathedral of Gorlovka, the local diocese official told Interfax-Religion. Residents of Gorlovka are evacuated free of charge with the help of volunteers and donors…
Metropolitan Onufriy elected head of Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (RISU) The Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate elected its new primate. The present Locum Tenens of the Kiev Cathedra, Metropolitan Onufriy of Chernivtsi and Bukovyna, will assume leadership. The results were announced 13 August, the same day the elections started…
14 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Thursday afternoon, the Archdiocese of Québec will be holding a press conference to focus attention on the humanitarian crisis affecting Iraqi Christians. Gaétan Proulx, auxiliary bishop of Québec, will be the main speaker. He will be joined by Carl Hétu, national director for CNEWA Canada, along with Archbishop George Casmoussa, of the Syriac Catholic Church in Iraq, and representatives from other humanitarian agencies.
The event will be livestreamed at 1:30 PM ET, on Québec archdiocesan web tv. Click this link to watch. (If you have trouble viewing, it will also be available here.)
13 August 2014
Children flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sinjar, Iraq, on 10 August.
(photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
Faced with the unrelenting reports about the sufferings of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, even Christians who are friendly toward Muslims can be perplexed and ask, “Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against these atrocities?” The answer is: Muslims have been speaking out in the strongest terms, condemning the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS (or, as it is increasingly called, IS) and others in the name of Islam.
So, why do we not hear more of this?
The first reason is because Islam is not a structurally centralized religion. Unlike, for example, Catholicism, there is no one person or institution that can speak with authority for all Sunnis or even all Shiites — to say nothing of speaking for all Muslims around the world.
The second reason is that there is a huge number of newspapers in Muslim countries throughout the world. Many, if not most, of these newspapers appear in languages unfamiliar to people in the West. Sometimes, it is not a question of Muslims speaking out, but of others just not hearing. Often, the “not hearing” happens because people do not have access to sources or just do not speak the same language. But the voices are out there. And an important media monitoring group has turned up the volume, to make sure more hear them.
MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), which could never be accused of being apologetic to Islam or Muslims, has just published a “Special Dispatch,” in which it gives a platform to several significant editorials written by Muslims in important Middle Eastern newspapers — condemning the atrocities taking place in Syria and Iraq in no uncertain terms.
In a scathing July 24, 2014 editorial on the issue, the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated that the targeting in Mosul of Christians, who have been part of the history and culture of Iraq for centuries, is the most extensive ethnic cleansing of modern times, and a black mark upon the reputation of Islam and the Muslims. The paper went on to call on moderate Muslims to condemn these terrible actions of the “cancerous” and “terrorist” IS, lest they become complicit in a crime against humanity. It also urged them to denounce extremist fatwas, such as the one by Sudanese cleric Muhammad Al-Jazouli, who cited a hadith permitting the killing of “infidel” men, women and children. The paper mentioned that this fatwa was widely published by MEMRI (view this clip on MEMRI TV here). It should be noted that, although the newspaper called this hadith “false” and “unreliable,” it actually appears in the Abu Dawud collection and is considered authentic.
Egyptian sociologist and human rights activist Sa’d Al-Din Ibrahim wrote in his weekly column for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm that the IS’s barbaric, racist and murderous treatment of Christians, unprecedented in the history of the Arab East, is reminiscent of the Nazis and Tatars, and does great harm to Islam. He called upon the Arab League to condemn the IS’s actions.
Columnist Ahmad Al-Sarraf used a scathingly sarcastic tone to express his outrage. In his column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, he told the Christians to leave the Arab lands, because the Arabs no longer have any use for progress, civilization, tolerance or coexistence, but only for backwardness, fanaticism and violence.
Read more at the MEMRI link. There are many more critical voices out there in the Arab world. They deserve to be heard.
Tags: Syria Iraq Violence against Christians Muslim Islam