25 July 2014
An Israeli soldier prays in front of a tank at a military staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip on 24 July. Fighting pushed the Palestinian death toll over 700. (photo: CNS/Nir Elias, Reuters)
Israel-Palestine conflict: The voice of reason silenced by the blast of weapons (VIS) Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See permanent observer at the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, spoke at the 21st Special Session of the Human Rights Council dedicated to the question of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem, which took place on 23 July. “As the number of people killed, wounded, uprooted from their homes, continues to increase in the conflict between Israel and some Palestinian groups, particularly in the Gaza Strip, the voice of reason seems submerged by the blast of arms. … The perpetration of injustices and the violation of human rights, especially the right to life and to live in peace and security, sow fresh seeds of hatred and resentment. … Demonizing others, however, does not eliminate their rights. Instead, the way to the future lies in recognizing our common humanity…”
‘Appalled’ by attack on U.N.-run school in Gaza, Ban urges halt to fighting (U.N. News Center) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he is “appalled” by the news of an attack on a United Nations-run school in Gaza where hundreds of people had taken refuge from the ongoing hostilities, adding that the incident underscores the need to stop all fighting immediately. Media reports say at least 15 people died in the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun, which was run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). More than 100,000 Gazans — 5 percent of the total population — have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities since the conflict began over two weeks ago…
World’s top Muslim leaders condemn attacks on Iraqi Christians (Vatican Radio) Two of the leading voices in the Muslim world denounced the persecution of Christians in Iraq, at the hands of extremists proclaiming a caliphate under the name Islamic State. The most explicit condemnation came from Iyad Ameen Madani, the secretary general for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group representing 57 countries, and 1.4 billion Muslims. Meanwhile, Mehmet Gormez, Turkey’s top cleric and the spiritual successor to the caliphate under the Ottoman Empire, also touched on the topic during a peace conference of Islamic scholars…
Pope Francis calls Patriarch in solidarity with Iraqi Christians (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reassured the patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church, 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…
Italy tries to cope with crush of migrants seeking refuge in Europe (Los Angeles Times) An estimated 71,000 people have made the dangerous 350-mile voyage to Italy this year from the Libyan coast. The number already exceeds the total for all of the previous record year, 2011, at the height of the “Arab Spring” uprisings. Chaos in Libya, traditionally a staging point for would-be émigrés trying to reach the European Union, has turned the operation into something of a free-for-all…
India: Salesians open child assistance center in Bangalore (Vatican Radio) A new child assistance center was inaugurated in Bangalore Railway Station under the direction of Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO) on 9 July by Mr. Anil Kumar Agarwal, Divisional Railway Manager, Southern Western Railways. The Child Rescue Booth, which will start functioning from Platform Four of Bangalore City railway station, aims to rescue the scores of children who arrive there daily, and to protect child rights in general. It is estimated that 50-60 runaway children arrive daily in the city of Bangalore, mostly at the railway station and Bus station…
24 July 2014
Tags: India Iraqi Christians Christian-Muslim relations United Nations Migrants
Looking for the latest news and insight on the Middle East? CNEWA’s Communications Director Michael J.L. La Civita will be on Relevant Radio later today to discuss the worsening crisis for Christians in the region.
You can hear him on “A Closer Look” with Sheila Liaugminas at 6:30 EST.
To find a station near you, visit this page. Or click this link to listen to the program online.
24 July 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Holy Land Christians
Displaced Christians wait for humanitarian aid 20 July at a church in the Iraqi town of Hamdaniya, east of Mosul. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
The announcement that the caliphate was restored was issued by the extremist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) on 29 June. I have been told by friends in the Middle East that the response of some young people was “What is the caliphate?” If that is the case with Muslims, how much more is it the case with non-Muslims throughout the world. What is the caliphate? What is the significance of it being restored? Is this something that should worry us?
I tried to answer a few of these questions in an essay published this week in America magazine:
For most people in the West the caliphate is an unknown. It sounds exotic — like something out of A Thousand and One Nights, a topic more suitable for National Geographic than The New York Times. However, ISIS and the newly proclaimed caliphate have taken over large sections of northeastern Syria as well as large sections of Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city. With efficiency and startling brutality ISIS has terrorized the Iraqi population, thrown the army into chaos and is marching on Baghdad where it threats to slaughter Shiites en masse.
Clearly the caliphate is back on the world stage. Contemporary information about the caliphate, mediated through the Western media, is a mixture of what ISIS thinks the caliphate was/is/should be, coupled at times with a historical reflection. As is the case in many ideologically motivated recreations of a historical past, the caliphate of ISIS relies on an idealized past, which, if it ever existed, did not exist for a very long time. While it is fair to say that the caliphate started with the death of the Prophet Muhammad in June 632 and continued until it was abolished by Atatürk in 1924, its form, authority and success differed greatly from place to place and time to time.
Read the full article, “Contesting the Caliphate,” in the current edition of America.
24 July 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Islam Sunni Shiite
Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks outside the northern Gaza Strip on 22 July. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
This week in Our Sunday Visitor, CNEWA’s Communications Director Michael J.L. La Civita offers some thoughts on the explosive crisis of the Middle East:
The artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East — with its national borders drawn arbitrarily by the Western Allied powers after World War I — is collapsing. In an article for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a French seminarian working with the patriarchate writes that a number of factors have contributed to the latest conflicts.
“Recently we witnessed the end and the failure of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, in particular because of the refusal of Palestine to recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, which led to a new wave of pessimism and despair,” Pierre Loup de Raucourt wrote. “The discovery of the three dead Israeli teenagers and the revenge that followed, leading to the horrific death of a young Palestinian, were sufficient to ignite a wick. And one does not know how big the powder keg is to which this wick is attached.”
That powder keg is huge.
In Iraq and Syria — by far the largest states created from the smoldering remains of the Ottoman Turkish Empire — the powder kegs have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq, once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves, has collapsed — its people exhausted by more than 30 years of constant war. Syria, once the bedrock of regional stability, has disintegrated — its people maimed and displaced. Meanwhile, extremist militias have overrun vast swaths of devastated territory and proclaimed an Islamist caliphate, an empire akin to those that dominated the region for centuries.
In Israel and Palestine, (as of this writing) leaders on both sides remain unyielding.
Read more in the current edition of Our Sunday Visitor.
24 July 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Middle East Israeli-Palestinian conflict Middle East Peace Process
Pope Francis blesses Meriam Ibrahim of Sudan during a private meeting at the Vatican on 24 July. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In a dramatic encounter at the Vatican, an Ethiopian-born woman who faced a death sentence for refusing to renounce her Christian faith had a meeting this morning with Pope Francis:
Meeting a Sudanese woman who risked execution for not renouncing her Catholic faith, Pope Francis thanked Meriam Ibrahim for her steadfast witness to Christ.
The pope spent 30 minutes with Ibrahim, her husband and two small children on 24 July, just hours after she had arrived safely in Italy following a brutal ordeal of imprisonment and a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told journalists that the encounter in the pope’s residence was marked by “affection” and “great serenity and joy.”
They had “a beautiful conversation,” during which the pope thanked Ibrahim for “her steadfast witness of faith,” the priest said.
Ibrahim thanked the pope for the church’s prayers and support during her plight, Father Lombardi said.
The Vatican spokesman said the meeting was a sign of the pope’s “closeness, solidarity and presence with all those who suffer for their faith,” adding that Ibrahim’s ordeal has come to represent the serious challenges many people face in living out their faith.
The informal conversation also touched upon the family’s plans now that Ibrahim is free, he said. The pope gave the family a few small gifts, including papal rosaries.
Ibrahim, a 26-year-old Catholic woman originally sentenced to death for marrying a Christian, had been released from prison in Sudan 23 June after intense international pressure. But she was apprehended again the next day at the Khartoum airport with her husband, who is a U.S. citizen, and their nearly 2-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter, who was born in prison just after Ibrahim’s death sentence.
Charged with possessing fake travel documents, Ibrahim was not allowed to leave Sudan, but she was released into the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, where she then spent the following month.
Italy’s foreign ministry led negotiations with Khartoum for her to be allowed to leave Sudan for Italy.
Read more at the CNS link.
24 July 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Violence against Christians Sudan
Palestinians in Gaza City yesterday walk past a mosque that witnesses say was hit by Israeli shelling. (photo: CNS/Mohammad Salem, Reuters)
Hiding in the shadow of the pastor in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexios has not had much sleep in the past few days. He has been busy ensuring that scores of Palestinian families who sought refuge in his church, the Church of St. Porphyrius, are getting all the help they need. The churches of Gaza are among the very few places left where Palestinians can seek refuge — so far. But on Monday night the nearby cemetery, located in the Orthodox church’s yard, was hit in an Israeli strike. “If we ask why did they hit [the church], they [Israelis] will come up with an excuse. But what I know is that Israel announced that churches and mosques are protected areas, they are safe places,” said Archbishop Alexios. During its 17-day assault, Israel’s army has hit at least five mosques…
Jerusalem patriarch: Don’t punish all Palestinians because of Hamas (CNS) It is impossible for Israeli military to target Hamas missiles without hitting civilians in the Gaza Strip, said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem. People might not agree with Hamas, which controls Gaza, but “we cannot punish all the population because you do not agree with Hamas,” he told Catholic News Service in Washington on 23 July…
Israeli fire hits U.N. facility, killing 15 (AP) Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside. Gaza health official Ashraf al Kidra says the dead and injured in the school compound were among hundreds of people seeking shelter from heavy fighting in the area. It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the Israeli operation began on 8 July…
Maronite patriarch calls for dialogue with ISIS (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter has called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria to a dialogue. “Humanity is the only thing we share with you. Come let’s talk and reach an understanding on this basis,” he addressed ISIS during a speech Wednesday at a dinner of the Episcopal Media Committee. “You rely on the language of arms, terrorism, violence and influence, but we rely on the language of dialogue, understanding and respect for others…”
Iraq’s ‘Islamic State’ is quite happy to rule by terror (Christian Science Monitor) For the Islamic State, the jihadi group based in Iraq and Syria that has seized major cities and towns in northern and central Iraq in recent months, slaughter and the fear of slaughter are the coin of the realm. And so far, it’s working…
Massive explosion in the courtyard of the Armenian Church in Zaporozhye (Public Radio of Armenia) A massive explosion ripped through Zaporozhye, near a major hospital, last night, Ukrinform reports. According to preliminary reports, the explosive device was left in the courtyard of the local Armenian church. No casualties were reported as a result of the accident…
From Aleppo to Armenia: Syrian auto-repair tycoon starts over (Christian Science Monitor) In Aleppo, Sako, 60, owned an auto-repair business that employed 15 workers. He made a substantial amount of money, he says — enough to buy four apartments in Aleppo and two cars, and eat out regularly at the city’s pricier spots. Then the war hit his business, forcing him to flee with his wife to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, where years earlier he had sent one of his sons to study to be a pharmacist. Now he rents and operates a small, tidy falafel and shwarma stand in the center of town, while his wife, a former anesthesiologist, manages another outpost next door…
23 July 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Armenia Israeli-Palestinian conflict
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)
Tags: India Kerala Health Care