23 July 2014
An Iraqi Christian woman fleeing the violence in the Iraqi city of Mosul sits inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif, Iraq, on 20 July. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Editors’ note: We received the following report this morning from Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana, an Iraqi-born priest of the Assyrian Church of the East now based in Germany. His report, which he has given us permission to post, provides a wide-ranging and comprehensive view of the tragedy now unfolding in northern Iraq, with some details that have gone largely unreported. It makes for sobering, heartbreaking reading.
We can only echo his words at the conclusion: Please keep Iraq’s suffering church and people in your prayers. The needs now are greater than ever. To learn what you can do for our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq, visit this link.
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Greetings from Duhok, Iraq.
I enclose for your information the attached report, which I hope will help bring a deeper understanding of the current crisis in Iraq.
I would like to share with you the following information/points:
First: All Mosul churches and monasteries — about 30 — have been seized by ISIS. The cross has been removed from all of them. Many of them are burned, destroyed and looted. Many others are being used as ISIS centers. The following are a few examples:
Mar Ephraim Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Al Shurta district (east side of Mosul): ISIS installed loudspeakers and is converted to mosque for prayers.
Syriac Catholic church in the old part of Mosul was looted and set on fire.
Mar Gewargis (St. George) monastery is looted.
Mar Thomas (St. Thomas) Syriac Catholic historical and old church was looted after the doors were broken. Now it is guarded by ISIS.
In addition, Mar Behnam (St. Behnam) Syriac Catholic monastery in the ancient Assyrian town of Nimrod is been controlled by ISIS.
For more information about Mar Behnam monastery, visit this link.
The religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs in Mosul have been destroyed. This is according to the ISIS Sharia. This destruction is endangering very ancient sites, such as the prophet Jonah’s tomb, which, according to many reports, was looted last week. The Shiite mosques (named “Hussayniya” in Arabic) are being demolished as well.
Second: All non-Sunni communities are being targeted by ISIS. In addition to Christians, this includes Yazidi (a very ancient religion) and Shiites.
Indeed, Yazidi had fled Mosul a couple of years ago (starting 2004 — 2010). They fled to Yazidi towns/townships/villages in Nineveh Plain, Duhok and Erbil. I doubt there were any Yazidi left in Mosul before 10 June. The Shiites in Mosul city and Nineveh governorate can be categorized as follows:
Turkman Shiites who were in Mosul city, Mosul west suburbs (Rashidiya, Gubba and Sherkhan) and in the big city of Telafar (North East of Mosul towards Syrian borders). Turkman Shiites were targeted and forced to flee. Their houses have been seized and many of them destroyed. In Talafar, Turkman Sunnis joined ISIS to persecute their fellow Turkman Shiites. Hundreds of Turkman Shiite families from the above-mentioned places, where they lived for centuries, fled towards Erbil in their way to be evacuated to Shiite provinces south of Iraq. The Iraqi central government (headed by Shiite and a Shiite Prime Minister Al Maliki) is facilitating this evacuation. A governmental flights program is ongoing to fly from Erbil airport to Najaf (Major Shiite city in the south of Baghdad) airport to evacuate these families and to be resettled in Shiite provinces. Another route is ongoing for the same purpose where convoys of buses and vehicles are evacuating these families through Erbil to Kirkuk to Sulemaniya and down to Khaniqin and then to southern provinces. This long route is because the road from Kirkuk to Baghdad is blocked.
Shabak Shiites are in Nineveh Plain, mainly from Mosul to Bartilla. Most of their townships are under Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] protection but there are few of their villages (between Bartilla and Mosul), which are under ISIS control or in the front line to ISIS. The Shabak Shiites of these ISIS-controlled villages fled. The Shabak Shiites who were living in Mosul fled as well. They fled to Shabak towns in Nineveh Plain and dozens of them fled seeking settlement in Shiite provinces south of Iraq. The same like Shiite Turkmans. The Turkman and Shabak Sunnis are not targeted.
This reflects how deep the sectarian conflict is and how long it will take to recover — if any recovery is to come. Can anyone really expect the Turkman and Shabak Shiites who are fleeing to Shiite provinces in southern Iraq — leaving their roots, existence and economy of a couple of centuries in — will return to Talafar and Mosul? Personally, I doubt it. What political impact does it have upon the Iraqi political and administrative structure? A big question.
The current situation reflects how the Iraqi structure was a fragile one. Is there really a common Iraqi people feeling that they are one people and one country?
The situation is clearly a deep social and political crisis. It is not a security or military battle between ISIS and Iraqi Army. The solution, if any exists, can only be achieved through reviewing and restructuring Iraq to convince all. This applies for Christians as well. The question and challenge is how to convince Christians that they have a future in Iraq. The nice words and sympathy statements are not enough. There should be deeds and practices.
According to a majority of Iraqi Christian politicians and people, the starting point is to grant the province (governorate) status for Nineveh Plain where the intensive Christian, Yazidi and Shabak demography exists.
The public relations statements — such as: we are all Iraqis and all Iraq is ours — are like a person who is issuing bank checks but he doesn’t have a bank account.
Third: Last night, ISIS tried to take over a medicine factory northeast of Mosul and west of Telkeif. There was a confrontation with Peshmerga who control and protect the area. ISIS terrorists were forced to go back after a short fighting. However, hearing the sound of the guns was enough to cause Christian families of Telkeif and Batnaya to escape and flee to the north in direction of Alqosh. The Peshmerga checkpoint nearby Alqosh prevented them and asked them to go back simply because there was no threats and no battles field. They went back to their homes. This reflects the fear and horror of the people.
Fourth: Yesterday, there was a bishops’ meeting in Erbil. It was headed by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I to discuss the situation. In addition, there was a meeting of all Christian political parties for the same purpose. The parties called upon a demonstration for tomorrow in Ain Kawa and to go to the United Nations office there, demanding that the International community protect the Iraqi Christians.
Fifth: The following is a summary from my visit last week to Qaraqosh (Hamdaniya), Bartilla and Bashiqa. In Qaraqosh I met Mr. Anwar Hadaya, the Christian member of Nineveh Governorate Council; Bishop Jerjis Qas Mousa, Syriac Catholic Patriarchal Vicar; and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Saliba Shamoun. In Bartilla, I met Mr. Monther, President of Syriac Community Council of Bartilla; board members of the council; and Father Jacob of the Syriac Orthodox Church. The council is the acting body and reference for the Syriac community of Bartilla. In Bashiqa, I met Syriac Orthodox Father Daniel and his church committee.
I will try to summarize the information that I learned from the people I met:
The major Christian town in the region. It has 45,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, 97 percent of them Christians. They confirmed the majority (almost 80 percent) of the inhabitants returned to Hamdaniya after they fled it because of the confrontation between ISIS and Peshmerga.
They confirmed the confrontation was initiated by ISIS, as it thought occupying Hamdaniya will lead to a fast and dramatic fall of other Christian and Shabak (Shiite) townships of Karmles, Bartilla and surrounding villages, and reaching Bashiqa (mixed Christian, Yezedi and Shabak town).
The current security situation is calm but the fear and horror is there as well. The suffering of the people includes the basic needs of daily life, such as:
Hamdaniya, Karmles, Bartilla, Bashiqa and surrounding villages were connected to Iraqi Electricity Network coming from Mosul. Now it is been cut by ISIS. They do not have electricity. The generators are not providing enough hours and the price is too high because the diesel is very expensive.
The above-mentioned towns were provided from Salamiya water station (a huge one on Tigris). The main pipe was connected from Salamiya to Hamdaniya and from there was pumped to Karmles, Bartilla, Bashiqa, etc.
Salamiya is currently controlled by ISIS, who cut the water from this region.
They told me that at first they were in contact by telephone with the Iraqi staff at the Salamiya water station. The Iraqis were providing them with water for one or two hours every day. But then the Islamic princes instructed the staff to cut off the water completely. The princes spoke over the phone and insulted the Christians who were calling the Iraqi staff. They told them: You don’t deserve to drink water.
So, there is no drinking water at all. The alternatives are the wells. However, the possible alternatives are different from one town to the other. For Hamdaniya, the alternative is to dig water wells and connect them to the existing pump station.
Of course, ISIS is not providing the hospital of Hamdaniya with medicine. There is a huge shortage and great need for medicines.
There are no salaries paid to the governmental offices, simply because there is no Iraqi government in Mosul. Islamic State does not pay Hamdaniya, nor other regions that are not under ISIS control.
Indeed, we also learned from sources inside Mosul that ISIS sorted out the lists of governmental offices staff and will not pay for any non-Muslim staff, even if that person shows up at work. We don’t think there are Christians to stay in Mosul and work in Islamic State offices. In addition, the banks are closed and the people do not have access to their cash. The private sector is almost paralyzed. All of this together makes the challenges of life very hard on the people.
The cleaning and other services have totally collapsed. The machinery and vehicles are not working. In addition, the coworkers from the surrounding Sunni villages are not working as their villages are controlled by ISIS and are not able (even if we suppose they like) to come to Hamdaniya.
The tendency to migrate is there, and is expected to increase. Many families are not migrating now because they don’t have their cash in hand as it is in the banks. In addition, they are waiting to sell their properties before they depart. The properties market is frozen for now.
The future scenario
Depends on the political agreements/disagreements between Iraqi political powers. So far, the indicators are for more and deeper conflicts and disagreements between Shiites on the one side, and Sunnis and Kurds on the other side. However, it is not expected ISIS will try to expand the control to Nineveh Plain for the following reasons:
the Peshmerga will prevent such attempts
the Iraqi military pressure on ISIS in Tekrit will push ISIS to avoid such battles against Peshmerga
the region is not an Arab or Sunni region to accept or cooperate with ISIS
In addition, many Sunni powers are in opposition to [Prime Minister] Al Maliki are in Erbil. This reduces the tension of Sunni areas against Kurdish and Peshmerga controlled regions.
The suffering is the same. Shiite Shabaks of Bartilla had already seized land and properties of Christians. The Iranian council was a regular visitor to Bartilla. All Shiite political parties have centers in Bartilla. This created a Sunni position against Bartilla.
The poverty is everywhere in Bartilla. However, hundreds of Shiite Shabaks from Mosul, Bartilla and surrounding villages fled to south of Iraq to the Shiite provinces of Najaf, Karbala, etc. This plan to flee the Sunni region and to be hosted in southern Shiite provinces is a clear solid indicator on how deep the conflict is, and how long it will take. No one is expecting the Shiites of Mosul and Nineveh Plain, now fleeing to the south of Iraq, will return.
Water needs of Bartilla
The alternative in Bartilla is to install units to purify the water they can get from the existing wells. They asked for two units to be installed in two of the wells they have in the church property. Lacking the drinking water, electricity, medicines, etc., has increased cases of disease.
Bashiqa and Bahzany
The same problems: Some 210 displaced Christian families from Mosul are hosted by the church. This is good but it is an extra burden upon the church, whose resources are limited. The solution of the water problem in Bashiqa is to provide a tanker to transport the water from the existing wells.
Keep Iraq’s suffering church and people in your prayers.
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana
23 July 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
A girl walks past the site of a bomb attack on 16 July at a market in Baghdad’s Sadr City. (photo: CNS/Wissm al Okili, Reuters)
Over at Patheos, blogger Elizabeth Scalia has a comprehensive roundup of what is happening in Iraq, beginning with a mention of CNEWA:
“Elizabeth, if I think too much about it I just break down. So many shrines I have visited destroyed. So many brethren I have known, battered, beaten or dead. Absolutely devastating.”
That’s a quick note from my friend, Michael LaCivita. Having worked for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association for decades, he knows and loves these places, knows and loves the people who are looking into the face of evil — true evil, the all-too-familiar kind of evil that keeps resurfacing throughout world history. It is the evil that comes forward when some human beings cease to see other human beings, as creatures as equally beloved of God as they are themselves; they see them instead as something less than human; sub-creatures meant to be either subjugated or swept from the face of the earth. For them, there is no other, more reasonable and less extreme choice.
We had been discussing the awful news and images out of Mosul and elsewhere, and I had confessed my heartbreak, the difficulty I was having with the reality that our ancient Christian roots — our ancestral places, so to speak, many founded well before the advent of Islam — have been so quickly overtaken, so thoughtlessly and eagerly eaten up by such a conflagration of hate.
That is when I heard his own pain, and worse. Our encounter occurred just as he’d finished communicating with sources on the ground, people who are seeing much more than we’re being told. Michael dared not say much, but he related this from the Syrian Maronite Bishop Sleiman, a sense of things as they are: “Flattened. Everything is just flattened. Destroyed.” People’s spirits are crushed; they have nothing, and are wholly dependent on aid; they are displaced, and in shock, and without the will to engage in the difficult work of surviving.
Read more over at The Anchoress.
23 July 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
Our pilgrimage group poses with the staff and residents of the House of Grace in Haifa. (photo: CNEWA Canada)
Recently, CNEWA led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land along with members of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada. One of our aims was to encounter the local Christians. In Haifa, we had the privilege of hearing the story of the “House of Grace” from the founders’ son, Jamal Shehade. CNEWA has partnered with the House of Grace for many years, supporting their various initiatives.
The House of Grace began 32 years ago as a humble ministry of Kamil and Agnes Shehade. Shortly after they married in the early 1980’s, the Shehades began to take in ex-convicts, providing a home for them in their small two-bedroom apartment. Eventually, their ministry grew into an abandoned church that they renovated and named the House of Grace.
Mr. and Mrs. Shehade had five children, who also lived with these former offenders. They grew up treating them as a part of their family — and, at times, even babysitters.
It is a difficult transition for those released from prison, as they are often ostracized by society and can easily fall back into negative behaviors. For many former prisoners at the House the Grace, it is the first time they are treated as human beings with dignity, rather than lowlifes or criminals. At the House of Grace, they are shown what a real “home” is like.
People of different faiths — Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze — live together at the House of Grace. They celebrate each other’s feasts and learn one another’s traditions. Eventually, they begin to understand and respect each other, even if they don’t always agree — which is rare in a society where there exist many deeply held prejudices.
We heard from one House of Grace resident who says their ministry has given him a new lease on life. He is very thankful to the people who gave him support and helped him to look positively toward the future. He has since obtained employment in construction, and is now focused on building a better life for his family.
We also learned that the House of Grace has a Canadian connection. As a young person, Kamil Shehade spent a year and a half at the Madonna House apostolate, a house of hospitality in the small town of Combermere, Ontario. Archbishop Joseph Raya sent Mr. Shehade to Canada when he noticed that the young man was going down a dangerous path in life. This experience greatly influenced Mr. Shehade — in his faith and in his attitudes toward community and the people within who are marginalized or reviled.
A few years ago, I spent two weeks at Madonna House. So I understand the ministry of the House of Grace, because it has the same open-door warmth that I experienced at Madonna House.
Unfortunately, Kamil Shehade died of cancer in 2000. He was only 46 years old. But his wife Agnes and his children have continued the work of the House of Grace with the support of staff and volunteers. Together, they live out the Gospel simply — with kindness and love, changing one life at a time.
To read more about their inspiring work, see this article from ONE magazine.
23 July 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians Canada CNEWA Canada
Father Paul Achandy offers the Eucharist to patients at the Amala Hospital in Trichur, India. To read more about the health care ministry in Kerala, check out Healing Kerala’s Health Care from the September 2011 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
23 July 2014
Tags: India Kerala Health Care
Palestinians gather on 23 July in the courtyard of St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza City, where they are taking refuge from fighting in the area. Israeli forces pounded multiple sites across the Gaza Strip on 23 July, including the enclave’s sole power plant. (photo: CNS/Finbarr O’Reilly, Reuters)
Gazans find sanctuary in ancient church (Al Monitor) The more than 1,600-year-old Church of St. Porphyrius, Gaza’s only Greek Orthodox church, canceled its Sunday prayers to open its doors to roughly 400 internally displaced persons from Shajaia. Deacon Rami Ayad says they have also “opened shops and houses to accommodate another 600 people. The neighbors are donating to everyone and the church is providing the youth in the mosque nearby with money to get food and break the fast at sunset, since they are fasting [for Ramadan]…”
Darkness Falls on Gaza (New York Times) The long siege has bled the Gaza Strip dry. There is no money for public services; the majority of the population lives in abject poverty. And now at least 120,000 Gazans have been displaced by the fighting, thousands taking temporary shelter in United Nations schools. Many will return to homes damaged or destroyed, with little or no means to rebuild. Cement is especially severely rationed because Israel suspects it is diverted by Hamas to build tunnels for fighters…
Israel’s Iron Dome doesn’t cover Bedouins (Electronic Intifada) The Negev desert in the south of present-day Israel is home to 200,000 indigenous Palestinian citizens of Israel, known as Bedouins, most of whom are completely defenseless against falling rockets because the Israeli government refuses to protect their villages and denies them the right to build bomb shelters. One of two Israeli civilians killed since 8 July was 32-year-old Auda al Wadj, who died when a rocket fired from Gaza struck his home in Qasr al Ser, a Bedouin village near Dimona that lacks sirens, bomb shelters and cover from Israel’s missile defense system…
700 Syrians killed in two days of conflict (Al Jazeera) In the bloodiest two days of fighting in the Syrian civil war, more than 700 people were reported killed in fighting between government and rebel forces loyal to the radical Islamic State — more than have been killed during the 15-day-old Gaza conflict that has dominated media attention in recent days…
More Lebanese soldiers flee to join Syrian rebels (Daily Star Lebanon) At least 10 soldiers have defected from the Lebanese army to join the Syrian opposition, several lawmakers said Wednesday. The members of parliament accused authorities of imposing a news blackout on the “defection” until the army had conducted its own inquiry…
Fighter jets shot down in eastern Ukraine (Huffington Post) Two Ukrainian military fighter jets have been shot down in the east, according to the country’s Defense Ministry. The Sukhoi-25 fighters were shot down 1:30 p.m. local time Wednesday over an area called Savur Mogila…
Security Council denounces persecution of minorities in northern Iraq (U.N. News Center) The United Nations Security Council has denounced the persecution of Christians and other minority groups in northern Iraq, which used to be home to minority communities that had lived together for hundreds of years before coming under direct attack by the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its allies…
22 July 2014
Tags: Ukraine Syrian Civil War Gaza Strip/West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict United Nations
Iraqi refugee children had found some stability in Syria before civil war erupted. Today, Foreign Policy in Focus writes: “Syria — a host country to 540,000 Palestinian refugees and, at its peak in 2007, 1.5 million Iraqi refugees — now faces its own refugee crisis.” With your help, CNEWA continues to work for, through and with the local churches and religious to help those enduring war in both Iraq and Syria. (photo: Spencer Osberg)
22 July 2014
Tags: Syria Refugees Children Syrian Civil War Iraqi Refugees
An Iraqi man carrying a cross and a Quran attends a liturgy at Mar Girgis Church in Baghdad on 20 July. Pope Francis called for prayers, dialogue, and peace, as the last Iraqi Christians flee the Iraqi city of Mosul. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Malik, Reuters)
Pope Francis calls Patriarch in solidarity with Iraqi Christians (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reassured Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III that he is following news out of Iraq with concern, particularly the dramatic situation of Christians in Mosul who have been threatened with death and seizure of their homes by Islamic militants. Christians have lived in Iraq’s second largest city for nearly two thousand years; there are few, if any, left now in Mosul…
An update on the situation in Iraq from the Dominican Sisters (Order of Preachers) We would like to update you on the situation here in Iraq, especially in the province of Nineveh. The two Chaldean sisters, who belong to the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, and the three orphans were released on Monday, 14 July. The sisters told me that they were treated well. We thank God for their safety. However, their car was taken away with the valuable items they had with them, also the ISIS took the keys of their convent in Mosul. Moreover, the ISIS gave the sisters a message to inform the Patriarch and the bishops…
Jihadists seize ancient Iraqi monastery and expel monks (The Telegraph) Islamist militants have taken over a monastery in northern Iraq, one of the country’s best-known Christian landmarks, and expelled its resident monks, a cleric and residents said on Monday. Islamic State fighters stormed St. Behnam, a fourth-century monastery run by the Syriac Catholic Church near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, on Sunday, the sources said…
Patriarch emeritus: There is no war in Gaza, but a useless massacre (Fides) In the night between Monday and Tuesday, the Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip caused further destruction and casualties among the civilian population. More than 580 Palestinians have been killed, while among the Israeli soldiers there have been 27 deaths so far. In the latest round of Israeli raids even four mosques and several health centers have been affected…
In Gaza, burying those killed by Israeli airstrikes is getting more dangerous (Washington Post) For Palestinians, burying bodies has become more difficult and dangerous with each passing day. Movement can be a risky sprint not only for ambulances but also for the beat-up vans that ferry the dead to cemeteries. The central morgue in Gaza City is overflowing, its wheezing refrigerators losing the struggle against the smell. The graveyards are filling, and mourners dig their own holes…
Georgian Orthodox Church condemns attack on Armenian church in Tbilisi (ArmenPress) On 22 July, Georgian Orthodox Metropolitan Gerasim of Zugdidi and Tsaishi met with the prelate of the Georgian-Armenian diocese, Bishop Vazgen Mirzakhanyan and discussed the attack on the Armenian Church of St. Etchmiadzin in Tbilisi. “The attack on the Armenian Church of St. Etchmiadzin is unacceptable and the Georgian Orthodox Church condemns that incident and calls on the parties for peace and tranquility…”
East Damascus hit by fiercest clashes in months (Daily Star Lebanon) Eastern Damascus was hit Tuesday by its fiercest fighting in months between rebels and pro-regime forces, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The air force meanwhile pounded rebel areas of the eastern neighborhood of Jobar, as opposition fighters launched mortars into army-held parts of Damascus, wounding 18 people…
21 July 2014
Tags: Syrian Civil War Gaza Strip/West Bank Iraqi Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict Georgian Orthodox Church
Palestinians flee following an Israeli airstrike on a house in Gaza City on 9 July. (photo: CNS/Majdi Fathi, Reuters)
This morning, Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, wrote an email to Msgr. John E. Kozar, president, about recent developments in Gaza. Mr. El-Yousef recently visited Gaza and shared a report on the status of Christians in the region.
Dear Msgr. Kozar,
The situation on the ground is horrific. The attack on the Shajaia neighborhood yesterday was very ugly, leaving 50 people dead — including 17 children, 14 women and 4 senior citizens — as well as 210 wounded and 70,000 displaced. You will recall that Shajaia is home to one of the three Near East Council of Churches clinics that we support in Gaza, as well as home to the largest N.E.C.C. Vocational Training Center operating there. Those who visited the neighborhood during the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire yesterday reported bodies of women and children scattered in the narrow streets.
This morning I spoke to Dr. Issa Tarazi, Director of N.E.C.C., and he said that the clinic was broken into, but given the intensity of the fighting, no one could get close to inspect the damage. They will not be able to get there until a formal ceasefire is reached.
I also spoke to contacts in both the Latin Church and the Greek Orthodox Church and they both opened facilities to receive those displaced, mostly from Shajaia. Luckily, so far, there has not been any human loss affecting Christians and property damage is limited to broken glass and minor damage. Let’s hope it remains this way. The most serious damage to the community is clearly psychological.
We are continuously assessing the situation and continue to pray for an end to this madness. I will keep you posted with developments.
To learn more about some of the N.E.C.C. institutions that CNEWA supports, read Behind the Blockade, from the March 2012 issue of ONE. To help Gaza’s suffering families, click here.
21 July 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Holy Land Christians Palestinians
Velma Harasen, left, and Betty Anne Brown Davidson of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada meet with the mayor of Bethlehem, Ms. Vera Baboun. (photo: CNEWA Canada)
We had an amazing visit to the Holy Land recently, joined by members of the Catholic Women’s League. I’d like to share with you some stories of our visit.
On 3 July 2014, our group was privileged to visit and speak with current mayor of Bethlehem, Ms. Vera Baboun. She is the first female mayor of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Our group was mainly composed of women leaders from the Catholic Women’s League in Canada, so it was a unique experience to visit the mayor, herself a Catholic woman and a leader.
Ms. Baboun is a passionate woman of faith. She shared with us a quote from a homily by the former Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, James Beltritti, that touched her personally during a tough time in her life and resonated with all of us: “Blessings and grace only reside in the womb of suffering. Learn how to give it birth.”
As a widow and mother of five children, Ms. Baboun has experienced great hardship in her own life. But this perspective helped her to focus on the blessings that come from and with such difficulties.
She discussed with us Bethlehem’s unfortunate status as a gated city. As part of the West Bank, it is under occupation by Israel and surrounded by a separation wall. And, metaphorically speaking, she shared that the faith is now walled as well:
“The wall breaches the path of faith between the moment of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the moment of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. We have a young generation in Bethlehem now who do not know the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, [which is] ten minutes away by car. …
“It is not only Bethlehem that is walled, but the message of our faith, our Lord, and love and peace is walled as well. I’m terrified for this fact. It’s a walling of the message, not only the walling of a city.”
She also spoke about different injustices that the Palestinian people face due to the conflict with Israel — for example, water shortages, ongoing confiscation of property and limits on people’s movement. As a minority group, Palestinian Christians are also often caught in the middle of conflicts between Jewish and Muslim populations.
We can keep the Star of Bethlehem burning by sharing the story of the “living stones” — the Christians of the Holy Land. They keep the faith alive and bear their cross every day. She urged us to please carry the cross of Bethlehem with us wherever we go. We left inspired and touched by her words.
21 July 2014
Tags: Holy Land Christians Bethlehem CNEWA Canada West Bank Women
Marcie Alter pets Dennis, a therapy dog that visits patients at the St. Louis Hospital in Jerusalem once a week. To learn more about this institution’s good work, read An Oasis of Compassion, from the September 2012 issue of ONE. (photo: Debbie Hill)
Tags: Jerusalem Sisters Health Care