10 September 2014
Displaced Iraqi Christians who fled from ISIS militants in Mosul pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, on 6 September. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
Editor’s note: Earlier in the summer, we published a letter from Archdeacon Emanuel Yaoukhana, an Iraqi-born priest of the Church of the East, now living in Germany. He recently returned to Iraq and sent the following letter to his friends and acquaintances.
Greetings from Duhok, Iraq.
I would like to share with you the points below, which we heard from the majority of the displaced people we met.
Today there are new realities on the ground in northern Iraq, following the speed with which ISIS took over vast swaths of land — including an area mainly inhabited by non-Muslim indigenous minorities: Christians and Yazidis. Those minorities fear losing their centuries-old culture, faith, livelihood and heritage. The situation of these indigenous people is in real peril if something is not done quickly. They are living with a real fear of extinction and eradication if they are not protected. We believe we need to do that for the following reasons:
They have lost trust in the Iraqi government’s will and capacity to protect them. Iraqi forces left Mosul — or rather surrendered Mosul — and many other areas to ISIS without putting up any fight.
They have lost trust in the K.R.G.’s [Kurdistan Regional Government] capacity to protect them. In some cases the famous Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] escaped without notifying the civilians they were supposed to protect.
They have lost trust in their own neighbors. In the city of Mosul, as well as other cities such as Sinjar and Telkeif, the non-Muslim minorities lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors in peace and tranquility, as long as there was a power that checked the Muslim majority. In the absence of that power, the Muslim neighbors attacked their non-Muslim neighbors — stealing all they can put their hands on just like what happened in the aftermath of the Massacre of Semele [Iraq] in 1933. With the power vacuum that was instigated by the ill-designed policies of the Iraqi government and with the sweeping control of ISIS, it was the neighbors who told ISIS where to find the non-Muslim houses. Victims’ Muslim neighbors served as an incubator to support ISIS terrorists; they not only showed the houses to ISIS, but they also participated in the looting and stealing that ensued.
The perpetuity of these ancient communities becomes, at this point, the responsibility of the world, because they lost all faith in their government and neighbors.
The world has to stop the genocide, displacement and forced migration. That could only be accomplished if we protect these minorities in their own historic lands. We believe this is doable if the world acts on establishing a safe haven area.
It will be good even for those Muslim neighbors, as these thriving minorities will serve as a catalyst to benefit the cultural exchange and coexistence across the Iraqi mosaic.
It will serve as an international example, if marketed wisely to the region and the world. The success of this could serve as a good example of the possibility of different ethnic groups and religions living side by side in peace and harmony.
It will entice the local governments to induce the example into their education systems and eventually to the national level, which will lead to forming laws and regulations where ethnic and religious minorities will not feel they are second-class citizens.
It will prevent further forced migration — and eventually ease the burden on the Western countries who are absorbing these non-Muslim minorities.
It will tell the Muslim majority in Iraq that the persecution of non-Muslims will not be tolerated.
It will force other countries with non-Muslim minorities to be on the watch and treat their non-Muslim minorities fairly.
This is a cry for help, this is an appeal for preservation of an ancient human culture which contributed so immensely to mankind. We hope you will find in your good heart the means and ways to protect these minorities.
Thank you very much.
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana
To support the suffering men, women and children of Iraq, please visit our giving page. And please keep them all in your prayers.
10 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians
A supermoon is seen above a cross on a church in Jerusalem on 9 September. The astronomical event occurs when the moon is closest to the Earth in its orbit, making it appear much larger and brighter than usual. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
10 September 2014
Pope Francis kisses the forehead of quadrapalegic Salvatore D’Argento from Chieti, Italy, as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 10 September.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope offers message of hope to Christians in the Middle East (VIS) In his greetings in various languages following the catechesis of today’s general audience, Pope Francis addressed the Arab-speaking faithful and in particular those from Syria and the Middle East, to remind them that the Church, following the example of her Master, excels in mercy. “She faces hatred with love, vanquishes violence with forgiveness, and responds to weapons with prayer,” the pope said. He added, “May the Lord reward your faithfulness, inspire you with courage in the struggle against the forces of evil, and open the eyes of those who have been blinded by evil, so that they may soon see the light of truth and repent for the mistakes they have made. May the Lord bless you and protect you always”...
For some Iraqi Christians, returning home is not an option (CNS) Uprooted from his home in Iraq by the advance of Islamic State fighters, Nouree sees no future for Christians in his country. “It’s like a nightmare,” the Chaldean Catholic father of six told Catholic News Service from a modest apartment in Beirut where he and his family have temporarily resettled after fleeing Iraq. “They just came and took our villages,” Nouree said of the militants. Nouree requested that his full name not be used to protect his identity. “It’s not a coincidence. It’s like a plan to rid the region of Christians. We Christians paid the price, and the Yezidis (the minority religious community) did, too,” Nouree said. “Even though they pushed us out, we won’t forget our homeland. This is our past, our history...”
Ukraine president promises greater autonomy to pro-Russian east (AP) Ukraine’s president promised Wednesday to introduce a bill as early as next week that would offer greater autonomy to rebellious regions in the pro-Russia east, where separatists have been battling government troops for almost five months. But President Petro Poroshenko said the regions would remain part of Ukraine and rejected the idea of federalization, something both Russia and the Russian-backed separatists are still pushing for even after a cease-fire that began Friday...
John Kerry arrives in Iraq to build alliance against ISIS (The Washington Post) Secretary of State John F. Kerry came to Iraq on Wednesday to congratulate a new Iraq government on which the United States is basing much of its emerging strategy to counter Islamic State militants. Kerry met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other senior officials. His visit is timed to precede President Obama’s speech Wednesday evening laying out a multi-pronged plan to confront militants who have seized large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory with stunning speed and battlefield prowess...
Egypt’s mufti condemns Islamic State (Kuwait News Agency) The Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawqy Ibrahim Abdulkareem Allam, Monday condemned the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) as a terrorist and criminal group which in no way represent Islam. Speaking at the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament this evening he said the name "Islamic State" of the group is a misnomer and stressed that Islam does not endorse violent acts and expulsion of people from their homes. ISIL "is carrying out activities which are alien to Islam. They don't represent Islam in any way," underlined the mufti...
9 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ukraine Middle East
A nun leads displaced Iraqi Christians in prayer at a school now being used as a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq on 6 September. Erbil now hosts more than 100,000 displaced Christians and other minorities. Learn what you can do to help them here. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
9 September 2014
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople walk past the Stone of Unction during an ecumenical celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem last May. Reports indicate the two may meet again in November in Turkey.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
UN: Ukraine death toll rises above 3,000 (The Guardian) The number of people confirmed killed in the Ukraine conflict has risen above 3,000 if the victims of the MH17 plane crash are included, a senior UN human rights official said on Monday. Ivan Simonovic, the UN assistant secretary general for human rights, said the number of people confirmed killed in fighting since the conflict erupted in April was now 2,729 but rose to over 3,000 if the 298 passengers and crew on the Malaysia Airlines flight were included, which he said they should be, though the true figure could be much higher. “This number includes killings registered based on available resources and ... the actual number may be significantly higher,” he told an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)...
Iraq approves new government (The Washington Post) Under huge international and domestic pressure, Iraq swore in a new government on Monday, opening the way for an expansion of U.S. military support to fight Islamist extremists in the country. The vote to approve a new cabinet came during a fiery late-night parliamentary session. Key positions, including those of the defense and security chiefs, were left open amid controversy over who would fill them. Now confirmed as prime minister, Haider al-Abadi said he would name candidates for those positions within a week...
Pope sends condolences to family of Steven Sotloff (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has expressed his sorrow for the death of slain US journalist Steven Sotloff, urging people everywhere to reject violence, aggression and lack of compassion. His words came in a telegram of condolences addressed to Sotloff’s family and signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin on behalf of the Pope...
Report: Pope may visit Turkey this year (Catholic News Agency) Pope Francis may visit Turkey 29-30 November, strengthening the links with the Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and advancing their common commitment to ecumenism, peace and ecology. The possible papal voyage to Turkey was discussed by Nikos Tzoitis, an expert in ecumenical dialogue who had served as spokesperson of Patriarch Bartholomew, to whom he is very close...
8 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine Turkey
A Palestinian boy runs next to destroyed buildings in Gaza City last month.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, visited Gaza last week, and CNS reports on what he saw:
Gazans are frustrated that, despite all the sacrifice and loss of life, nothing has changed for them, except perhaps having more fishing rights, said a Catholic aid official.
“Clearly there is anger felt, [but] people are cautious who they speak to and keep [their opinions] to themselves,” said Sami El-Yousef, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Palestine and Israel.
One Palestinian to whom he spoke told of the destruction caused by Hamas and its failure to meet the needs of the average person, El-Yousef said after a three-day visit to the Gaza Strip.
He said that, walking through the streets, he saw widespread destruction to both residential and commercial property, and directors of partner organisations who thought they would never see him again broke into tears at their meeting as they told him of their experiences.
Toward the end of his visit he could see lines of public employees at ATM machines late at night, waiting to receive their wages.
El-Yousef said people spoke about the eeriness of the precise intelligence information the Israelis had. He said he heard several stories of incidents in which the Israeli warnings to the civilian population were very exact — all the way down to knowing the names of people living in certain buildings and who had left a building and who had not following a warning. People told him the Israelis would call back someone who had not left, asking them to leave.
“In the eyes of most people there was a concerted effort [by the Israelis] to try to give sufficient warning, unless there was an immediate danger of shooting by militants in the area or unless it was the home of an intended operative. Some families responded and others didn’t,” said El-Yousef.
He said that during and immediately following the 50-day summer war, Christian institutions in Gaza were able to provide assistance to those most in need. The war left 2000 Palestinians dead, thousands injured, some 100,000 people homeless and immeasurable societal destruction in its wake.
“Christian institutions took their natural place by being responders, being alert to the community and providing services,” El-Yousef said. “They were [among] the first to respond. People are very appreciative.”
Read the full story here.
And visit this page to learn how you can help those struggling to cope in Gaza.
8 September 2014
Pro-Russian separatists stand guard at a checkpoint near Donetsk, Ukraine, on 4 September.
(photo: CNS/Maxim Shemetov, Reuters)
Firefights break out in Ukraine (Washington Post) Ukraine struggled to maintain a tenuous cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels after a series of repeated breaches Sunday, even as the government here faced the equally daunting task of selling the peace plan to the nation. Firefights broke out near the rebel-held city of Donetsk as well as east of the key port city of Mariupol, eyewitnesses said. Yet Ukrainian officials maintained that in general, the truce, which went into effect Friday evening, was holding...
Pope appeals for peace in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has expressed the hope that Ukraine’s current ceasefire can promote efforts to achieve a lasting peace in the east of the country. He also condemned recent violence in the African nation of Lesotho and appealed for a return of peace. His twin appeals came after his Angelus address on Sunday in the Vatican before crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Afterwards he praised Italian Red Cross volunteers leaving for Iraqi Kurdistan for their generous support on behalf of all those persecuted in Iraq...
President Obama to announce strategy against ISIS (The Guardian) Barack Obama will announce a new U.S. “game plan” for an offensive against Islamic State (ISIS) this week, the U.S. president said on Sunday as efforts to build an international coalition against the extremists made progress. The U.S. president — who had been derided for saying last month he did not have a strategy to contend with ISIS — said he would seek congressional support on Tuesday and then “describe what our game plan’s going to be” in a speech on Wednesday...
Palestinian unity teeters over fight with Israel (USA Today) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to dissolve his party’s unity government with Hamas as tensions between the two mount over this summer’s fighting with Israel in Gaza. “We will not accept having a partnership if their status in Gaza remains this way,” Abbas said late Saturday in Cairo, according to Egypt’s state news agency MENA. As long as Hamas remains in control of Gaza, Abbas said, “the government of national unity can do nothing on the ground.” Hamas, which entered into a cease-fire agreement with Israel late last month after 50 days of warfare, denounced Abbas’ actions, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported...
Turkey opens its doors to Yazidis (Daily Sabah) The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which is an offshoot of al-Qaida, has been slaughtering the ancient Yazidi community in Iraq, causing another humanitarian crisis in the country. While some Yazidi villages near the Iraqi town of Sinjar have been vacated, some Yazidis fled to the Kurdish region and others went to Turkey. Turkey has been the main country that has opened its doors to Yazidis. Approximately 10,000 Yazidis crossed the border into Turkey. While many of them were accommodated in Turkish Yazidi villages, others who have no relatives in Turkey were placed in a refugee camp...
5 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey
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)