10 October 2014
Displaced Christian refugee Ghanem Yadago rests in the room he now occupies in a church social hall in Erbil, Iraq (photo: Don Duncan)
Editor’s note: Photojournalist Don Duncan just returned from Erbil, Iraq, where he is reporting on refugees there for ONE magazine. Among those he met: the Yadago family. He profiles them below. We will have much more in the Autumn edition of the magazine, coming soon.
While Ghanem Yadago, his wife Waheeda and his two sons Wissam and Fadi were fleeing their home in northern Iraq under ISIS gunfire, Ghanem found he had a steady calm and was able to support and encourage hiswife to continue the passage out of danger. This is in part because Ghanem could not see the danger and chaos that his family could see around them as they fled: He is blind.
He lost his sight due to shrapnel in a battle during the Iran-Iraq war and since then he has been completely dependent on his wife and children. Their displacement from their hometown of Tel Usquf in the plain of Niniveh in northern Iraq occurred on 5 August. While the experience of displacement has turned the entire family’s life upside-down, Ghanem was hit especially hard.
“Back in our home, I could manage by myself because I knew the house intimately,” he says. “I didn’t need anyone to help me go to the bathroom, to shave, to get around. However, on moving to the tent [in the yard of St. Joseph’s Church, Erbil], it was very difficult for me. It was a new place for me, unfamiliar. I had to ask people’s help for everything.”
After a number of weeks living in the tent, Ghanem and his family were offered living space in a new facility for the sick and elderly that was set up by the Assyrian Church in Ananas Hall, normally a social function room in Erbil that has been re-purposed as a refuge for the sick and disabled. The hall has dozens of living quarters attended to by medical personnel. CNEWA donated wheelchairs, along with three showers adapted to the disabled.
Ghanem moved, but his family remained in the camp to benefit from the food and medical aid they needed there. For now, the family lives apart from him. Waheeda, his wife, makes the trip from the camp to Ananas Hall three times a day and stays with Ghanem there at night.
“I came here to the camp this morning, because I had slept at the hall last night,” Waheeda explains in her tent in Martha Schmouny camp. “I then cooked and fed my sons and then I went to check on Ghanem. I then came back to help my sons and later, I will return to the hall to spend the night with Ghanem.”
“I get physically tired from coming and going so much, and I myself have developed health problems,” she adds with a sigh.
Waheeda draws some paper slips from her bag: ECG scans she has had done in Erbil since her arrival. Her doctor believes she has developed heart problems from the shock and trauma of displacement. Worried about a possible heart attack, the doctor has put her on heart medication.
With the ECG scans, several flattened medicine packets fall from her bag: they are medicine for both her heart and Ghanem’s. He also has a pre-existing heart condition, one that is acute and needs to be managed.
“In the beginning, when we arrived, we used to buy all of the medicine he needed until some organizations came and decided to help us and to provide medicines to us,” Waheeda explains, “but not all the medicines are provided so we still have to buy some and some of the medicines are so expensive, we can’t afford to buy them.”
While the family is temporarily separated again and Waheeda does her back-and-forth journeys between the camp and Ananas Hall, Ghanem busies himself with getting the new family living space ready for his family to move into.
The walls have been made from carpeting nailed to wooden frames and the hall is divided into numerous sections, each of which will serve as a living space for each sick or old person and their family. In his family’s assigned living space, Ghanem has arranged two beds and has stacked foam mattresses. On the carpeted “wall” hang a few towels. There is a folded pile of clothes on the floor.
Sitting on one of the beds, Ghanem takes out a mobile phone and carefully fingers in each digit of his wife’s number. He checks in on her this way, throughout the day, but, he says, he does feel bad about the extra pressure his disability has put on her during their displacement.
“It is difficult for my wife,” he says. “She is the one who has to get the food supplements, the ice, and everything that might be distributed. She has to take care of all that I would normally do, herself.”
Ghanem’s wife, Waheeda, washes pots and pans from an outdoor tap to prepare dinner for her family at a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq (photo: Don Duncan)
Back at Martha Schmouny camp in Erbil, Waheeda and her eldest son, Wissam, are preparing for dinner. She washes some pots and pans under a tap not far from the tent and he heads off to the camp’s food distribution area to see what he can find. With Ghanem’s heart condition, the family has had to pass up on much of the food that has been cooked and distributed to the displaced Christians of the camp by charities and NGOs.
“Ghanem has a special diet. He can’t eat meat, only chicken. He can’t eat fat,” Waheeda explains. “So, often, we cannot eat what is provided for us.”
The family’s youngest, Fadi, 15, is one of the many Christian teenagers whose studies have been put on hold by the ISIS violence and their subsequent displacement from Tel Usquf.
The Yadagos also have three daughters but they are all married and living abroad, one in Australia and two in the US.
While many displaced families are now beginning to seriously consider emigration as the only real solution moving forward, the Yadago family is keen on staying put.
“Given the fact that Ghanem is sick and I have a son who is 15 and is still at school, we are not so interested in going back to Tel Usquf and staying there,” Waheeda says. “We might return for a while but we have realized that we would prefer to stay in Erbil. We’d like to stay close to doctors so that if anything happens to Ghanem, we can find doctors easily and quickly.”
A sister leads Ghanem, who is blind, down a hall toward his room in the facility for the sick and disabled in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: Don Duncan)
Please keep the Yadagos and families like them in your prayers. And to help families like them, please visit our Iraq giving page. Thank you!
10 October 2014
Internally displaced children eat inside a tent in Aleppo, Syria, on 8 October. Christians cannot follow Jesus while turning away from people who are hungry, Pope Francis said. To help the suffering people of Syria, please visit this link. (photo: CNS /Jalal Al-Mamo, Reuters)
10 October 2014
In the video above, Pope Francis calls on Catholics to join him in his “Week of Action” to
end world hunger. (video: Caritas Internationalis)
Priest kidnapped in Syria released (Catholic Herald) A Catholic priest kidnapped by Islamists in Syria has been released, according to the Custody of the Holy Land. Fr Hanna Jallouf, a Syrian, was taken captive in Tuesday by the al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra front, along with 20 parishioners. In a statement the Custody of the Holy Land, the head of the Franciscan in the region, said that “Father Hanna Jallouf has been released this morning. He is under House Arrest at the Convent of Knayeh (Qunayeh).” His current whereabouts is unknown...
Palestinian government convenes in Gaza (The Los Angeles Times) For the first time since 2007, Palestinian Authority officials traveled Thursday from the West Bank to Gaza. Describing the day as “historic,” Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was set to hold a first meeting of the new unity government that was sworn in in June after a reconciliation accord was signed between the rival Palestinian political factions of Fatah and Hamas...
Pope urges support in fight against world hunger (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is calling an all Catholics around the globe to join him in his “Week of Action” (12-18 October) to end world hunger. The “Week of Action” is part of Pope Francis’ One Human Family, Food for All campaign with Caritas Internationalis. Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a 501(c)3 corporation, is also supporting this mission by collecting donations for food...
Canada votes to join air strikes against ISIS (The Guardian) Canada’s parliament has voted to authorize air strikes against Isis in Iraq, joining the US-led bombing campaign. The Conservative party of Stephen Harper, the prime minister, introduced the motion last week and it was debated this week. Harper has a majority of seats in parliament so the vote was all but assured. The motion passed on Tuesday by 157 votes to 134. The motion authorizes air strikes in Iraq for up to six months and explicitly states that no ground troops be used in combat operations...
Nuncio in Lebanon shares concerns for region (Vatican Radio) “No more war, no more violations of human rights!” That’s what the Holy See’s Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon says the international community needs to hear and act on as conflict rages across Syria and Iraq...
Synod releases statement on families affected by war (Fides) The full text of the message of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for families who suffer as a result of conflicts is published here: “Gathered around the Successor of the Apostle Peter, we the Synod Fathers of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, along with all participants, share the paternal concern of the Holy Father, expressing our profound closeness to all the families who suffer as a consequence of the many conflicts in progress. In particular, we raise to the Lord our prayers for Iraqi and Syrian families, forced on account of their profession of the Christian faith or their belonging to other ethnic or religious communities, to abandon everything and flee towards a future without any form of certainty...”
8 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank
Antonina Harutinian sits in her domik home in, Gyumri, Armenia. Though meant to be temporary shelters for those displaced by the 1988 earthquake, the tiny domik structures remain the only home many Armenians have known in the decades since. To read more about challenges facing Armenian pensioners, read Shaken by the Earthquake of Life, in the Summer 2014 issue of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
8 October 2014
Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Pensioners
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane after an air strike, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing near Suruç, Turkey, on 4 October. (photo: Stringer/Getty Images)
Syrian Kurds say airstrikes push ISIS back from Kobane (Daily Star Lebanon) U.S.-led air strikes Wednesday pushed ISIS fighters back to the edges of the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani, which they had appeared set to seize after a three-week assault, local officials said. The town has drawn international attention since the Islamists’ advance drove 180,000 of the area’s mostly Kurdish inhabitants to flee into adjoining Turkey. Ankara has infuriated its own restive Kurdish minority and its NATO partners in Washington by refusing to intervene…
Air strikes leave 65 civilians dead in Iraq’s Anbar (Fars News) A large number of Iraqi civilians were killed during the massive air strikes launched by the warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition in Anbar province on Monday. A military source told National Iraqi news agency that the strikes on ISIS in the city of Ramadi left 65 civilians dead…
More than 300 killed in Ukraine since cease-fire (Al Jazeera) At least 331 people have been killed in clashes in eastern Ukraine since Kiev and Russian-backed rebels signed agreements to enact a cease-fire and create a demilitarized buffer zone last month, the United Nations said Wednesday. Hostilities persist in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk, as well as around the towns of Debaltseve and Schastye…
The Franciscan priest kidnapped after he had appealed to court (Fides) The Rev. Hanna Jallouf, O.F.M., was kidnapped along with his parishioners after his recent visit to the Islamic Court, the body set up to administer justice according to Islamic law in the areas not controlled by the Syrian government. He had gone to report harassment and abuse the convent had suffered in recent weeks by the brigades of Islamists who control the area…
Greek Orthodox denounce Israeli law on Aramaic Christians as divisive (Ecumenical News) The Greek Orthodox Christian Patriarchate in east Jerusalem has slammed an Israeli law recognizing Aramaic Christians as a nationality, describing it as an attempt to divide the Palestinian minority. The Greek Orthodox Church said in a statement that the law, which separates Christians from Arabs, would split minorities living in Israel, eventually weakening Palestinians, reported The Jerusalem Post. “Palestinian Christians are an important part of the Arab and Palestinian nations; we are proud of the Aramaic identity as it reflects history and culture shaped by Arab Muslims and Christians,” the report quoted Christian Orthodox Church spokesperson Father Issa Musleh as saying…
Pope: Divisions between Christians are wounds in the church (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed for Christian unity on Wednesday at his weekly General Audience. Speaking to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope invited those present to ask themselves: “Are we resigned, or even indifferent to this division? Or do we firmly believe that we can and we must walk together towards reconciliation and full communion?” Divisions between Christians — he continued — wound the church and wound Christ…
7 October 2014
Tags: Syria Ukraine Violence against Christians Israel Christian Unity
Father Kevin O’Connell baptizes a child at Sacred Heart Church in Amman.
(photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
In 2011, we took a closer look at the lives of Filipino migrants working in Jordan, and discovered they were finding sustenance in their faith while far from home:
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem established Sacred Heart parish in 1996 to serve Amman’s swelling Catholic migrant community. Among the families are a scattering of Europeans and North Americans, most of whom work in the foreign embassies of the posh Jabal Al Weibdeh neighborhood that surrounds the church. A few wear bright salwar kameez, the traditional pajama-like trousers worn by men and women from the Indian subcontinent. The vast majority, however, are Filipino women.
“It was a little strange for me in church at first,” says Father Kevin O’Connell, who has led the parish since its inception 15 years ago. “You’d look out to an entire congregation of women.”
A congenial 67-year-old Jesuit priest from Boston, who wears slacks and sandals under his vestments, Father O’Connell, looks and acts the part of a wise, friendly grandfather.
He helps the choir and he holds the lease on a house where the choir rehearses and other church groups gather. Father O’Connell also oversees the Sacred Heart youth basketball team and helped a group of youngsters from the church secure a space in the Jesuit Fathers’ center where they can breakdance.
Most important, Father O’Connell spends much of his energy responding to the spiritual, emotional and material needs of his predominantly Filipino congregation and other Filipino migrants in the country.
“I understood that the first task was to give people a place where they could be at home,” says Father O’Connell. “For these people, just the ongoing, regular liturgy — with Filipino music, with people reading, with them being able to participate in whatever way they want — gives a strand of consistency and continuity. It’s their home. It’s their place. In most cases, there’s no place else they can gather.”
Though some have jobs at the Philippine Embassy or in international organizations, most are domestic workers. They live in their employers’ homes and work long hours. Many experience intense feelings of loneliness and homesickness. They often have families back home whom they miss desperately.
Read more about Filipinos Far From Home in the November 2011 issue of ONE.
7 October 2014
A destroyed car sits outside a school in Homs, Syria. Two car bombs exploded near the school on 1 October, killing at least 47 students. (photo: CNS/courtesy Jesuit Refugee Service)
Jesuit based in Syria urges caution as Canada debates military action (Catholic Register) As Canada debated joining the United States and other nations in military intervention to stop Islamic State militants, a Jesuit priest based in Syria urged caution and called for renewed efforts to find peace. “I am not a political man,” said the Jesuit Rev. Ziad Hilal, pastor of Holy Savior Parish in Homs and project manager for Jesuit Refugee Service. “What I want to say, the Syrian people need peace and security…”
Syrian priest and Christians kidnapped by fighters linked to Al Nusra (Fides) The Franciscan Fathers of the Custody of the Holy Land confirm that the Rev. Hanna Jallouf, O.F.M., parish priest in Knayeh, was taken by some brigades linked to Al Nusra Front on 5 October. Along with Father Hanna, several men of the Christian village were also taken. The number of those who were kidnapped is not specified…
Syria border town ‘about to fall’ as hundreds dead (Daily Star Lebanon) Jihadists are on the verge of seizing the key Syrian border town of Kobane, Turkey warned Tuesday after a three-week assault by ISIS that has left hundreds reported dead…
Islamic State using water as a weapon in Iraq (Washington Post) The Islamic State militants who have rampaged across northern Iraq are increasingly using water as a weapon, cutting off supplies to villages resisting their rule and pressing to expand their control over the country’s water infrastructure. The threat from the jihadists is so critical that U.S. forces are bombing the militants close to both the Mosul and Haditha dams — Iraq’s largest — on a near-daily basis. But the radical Islamists continue to menace both facilities…
Chaldean bishop: ‘Our people have been abandoned’ (Aid to the Church in Need) The Government of Iraq is guilty of not helping Christians desperate to flee Islamic State militia, according to a leading Catholic bishop from the country. Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said Iraq’s national government in Baghdad “has done nothing, absolutely nothing” for 120,000 Christians seeking sanctuary away from areas terrorized by the extremists…
Pope Francis convokes consistory on Middle East (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday convoked a consistory of cardinals and patriarchs to discuss the situation facing Christians in the Middle East. The consistory will take place in the Vatican on 20 October…
‘What truce?’ ask residents of Donetsk, where battles continue to rage (Euronews) A ceasefire may still be officially in place in eastern Ukraine, but try telling that to the owners of burning homes in Donetsk. Battles are raging unabated between Ukrainian forces and separatist fighters, mainly around the city’s airport. And nearby neighborhoods are often caught in the crossfire…
6 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine Iraqi Christians
Men gather for class in Navachaithanya, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center established in 1991 by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Irinjalakuda, in Kerala. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
Al Jazeera recently published this video, calling attention to Kerala’s high rates of alcohol abuse:
In the July 2005 issue of ONE, we shined a spotlight on this issue, and on one institution the Syro-Malabar Church created to help address this problem:
Kerala has the highest consumption of alcohol per capita in the country (about 20 percent of Indians drink alcohol, and of that number 5 percent are alcoholics, reported The Hindustan Times last year). Each year, the state consumes 2.2 gallons of liquor per capita, about three times the national rate, according to India’s Outlook magazine.
“In Kerala, people tend to start drinking once they are 18 years old, which is the legal age for being able to purchase liquor,” said Father Titus Kattuparambil, a Syro-Malabar priest of the Eparchy of Irinjalakuda and assistant director of Navachaithanya.
“Among the bad cases, you’ll see people who earn about three dollars a day, and they’ll blow two dollars of that on alcohol.”
Both national and local governments have acknowledged the problem of alcoholism, and alcohol advertising is illegal. Kerala’s state government also funds several detoxification centers at public hospitals. But at the same time, Father Titus pointed out, the government in Kerala — as in other Indian states — draws revenue from liquor taxes and therefore has a fiscal disincentive to curb alcohol consumption.
Nonetheless, in 1996 the state government banned the consumption of arrack, a potent liquor made from fermented palm sap (and not to be confused with the arak liquor of the Arab world). The government thought the ban on arrack, which is much stronger than toddy, would help curb alcoholism. The prohibition, however, only encouraged illegal traffic and production. Hundreds of Keralites have been killed or blinded from drinking bad batches of home-brewed arrack. And alcohol consumption continues to rise.
It has largely been left to religious organizations and NGOs to treat Kerala’s alcoholics.
“Alcohol has always been a problem here, it’s not just recently,” said Syro-Malabar Bishop James Pazhayattil of the Eparchy of Irinjalakuda. “Several years ago, people approached me about the problem in our community and we started Navachaithanya.” Since then, the center has treated more than 8,000 men for alcoholism or drug addiction, though alcohol is by far the area’s larger problem.
Read the rest here.
6 October 2014
Tags: India Kerala Health Care Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Alcoholism
In this June photo, Islamic State fighters stand guard at a checkpoint in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The United Nations reported that the Islamic State has committed a “staggering array” of human rights abuses in Iraq, causing many in Mosul to flee. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Mosul residents fear U.S. airstrikes and sectarian revenge (Christian Science Monitor) Four months after a band of Sunni jihadists captured their city with shocking ease, residents of Mosul are bracing for possible United States-led airstrikes. As the U.S. and its allies have stepped up a bombing campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State, Sunni residents of Mosul say militants have lowered their profile and switched up tactics…
Most ISIS ammunition from U.S. and China (New York Times) In its campaign across northern Syria and Iraq, the jihadist group Islamic State has been using ammunition from the United States and other countries that have been supporting the regional security forces fighting the group, according to new field data gathered by a private arms-tracking organization. This suggests that ammunition transferred into Syria and Iraq to help stabilize governments has instead passed from the governments to the jihadists, helping to fuel the Islamic State’s rise and persistent combat power…
Kurds repel attack on Syrian town (Daily Star Lebanon) Kurdish forces defending a Syrian town near the Turkish border clashed with the Islamic State Monday after repelling a wide-ranging militant assault the day before in battles that left dozens dead on both sides…
Hezbollah pushes back Syrian militant offensive in Bekaa (Yahoo! News) At least 16 insurgents from Al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Al Nusra Front, were killed in clashes with Shiite group Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Sunday after launching a major offensive, a source close to Hezbollah said…
Abbas pushes U.N. statehood plan forward (Al Monitor) Palestinians seek to restart negotiations with Israel, on equal footing. “Permanent status negotiations between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel is what we want to see in 2015,” said a senior political Palestinian source in Ramallah. The Palestinian Authority will move forward on four tracks toward a “make it or break it” year…
Many killed as rebels storm Ukraine’s Donetsk airport (Vatican Radio) At least some 12 pro-Russian rebels have reportedly been killed in fighting around the airport of Ukraine’s eastern city of Donetsk. Pro-Russian rebels could be seen dragging the body of a fellow fighter to a truck in one of the bloodiest clashes since a ceasefire was agreed last month…
3 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Ukraine Palestine
In Gangapar, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a brick house protects the children of Jasvir Singh from floods. The children attend a school run by the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Bijnor and funded by CNEWA. To read more about life in Gangapar, read Caste Aside, published in the Summer 2014 issue of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)
Tags: India Children Indian Christians Indian Catholics Catholic education