18 July 2017
In the video above, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the papal nuncio to Iraq, expresses his hopes for Christians in that beleaguered country. (video: CNS/YouTube)
To understand the current situation in Iraq — the evolving and complex conflicts there, and the fear and resilience of its Christians — one has to understand its past, which is often ignored or unknown in the West, said a former papal representative to the country.
“History is itself a victory over ignorance, marginalization and intolerance; it is a call for respect and to not repeat the mistakes of the past,” said Cardinal Fernando Filoni in his book, “The Church in Iraq.”
The book is also “a testimonial” to the victims of “the Islamic terrorism of ISIS,” he told the Christians and non-Christians he met when Pope Francis sent him as his personal representative to encounter and pray with these shaken communities that fled the Islamic State.
That brief visit in 2014 was a homecoming of sorts.
The Italian cardinal, now 71, lived in Iraq during a time of great tension and turmoil. St. John Paul II made him the apostolic nuncio — the pope’s diplomatic representative — to Iraq and Jordan in January 2001. Several months later, after 9/11, the United States administration started building pressure against Iraq, pushing for military action.
St. John Paul firmly opposed military intervention and, despite the fact that he sent peace-seeking missions to Washington and Baghdad, the United States attacked.
“Not even the stern warning of the saint-pope could deter President George W. Bush from his purpose,” the cardinal wrote. He said the day of the invasion, 19 March 2003, became “a very sad day for Iraq and for the whole world.”
The nunciature never shut down, not even during the airstrikes and occupation or the ensuing chaos of looting and revenge.
It was during his tenure there in Baghdad, which ended in 2006, that Cardinal Filoni went through the nunciature’s archives, which housed “a rich history” of documentation and letters, detailing the history of the Vatican’s diplomatic relations with Iraq and the establishment of an episcopal see in Baghdad in the 16th century.
“Naturally, this caught my eye,” he said, and the idea for a book emerged there in the wealth of material buried in an archive.
The book’s chapters take a historical overview of the church’s long presence in Mesopotamia, dating back to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle, and looks at how the expanding early Christian communities there evolved, faced internal divisions and challenges, and still shared their unique gifts.
Looking at the church’s journey in the past also made him realize: “This is unknown to us. And so I thought, writing a book that traced, especially for us in the West, the birth, the evolution of this history up to present day could be ... of service to Christianity in the Middle East, particularly in Mesopotamia, which is suffering because of expulsions, persecution or discrimination.”
Published first in Italian in 2015, The Catholic University of America Press is releasing the English edition toward the end of July in the United States and in mid-August in the United Kingdom.
The cardinal spoke to Catholic News Service in Rome during an interview at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, where he has served as prefect since 2011.
The book looks particularly at how minorities and the country as a whole suffered invasions, despots and Western hegemony, and yet tenaciously held on to its cultures and religious identities.
“In order to defend their identity within this great sea of Islam, Christians had to withdraw into themselves, keeping their own language, which dates back to the time of Jesus, that is, Aramaic,” he said. While, over the centuries, the everyday spoken language developed into different dialects, the liturgy still maintained the original form of ancient Aramaic, he added.
Even though Christians held on to their traditions and culture, they were “truly open” and didn’t ignore the world around them, learning and speaking Arabic, for example, he said.
This kind of everyday contact between Christians and their Muslim neighbors also led to a sharing of ideas, influence and mutual respect on the local level, Cardinal Filoni said.
For example, he recalled when he lived in Baghdad, he visited a church dedicated to Mary in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood.
“I was astounded by the fact that the walls of this church were dirty” with what looked like handprints smudged everywhere, he said.
When he asked church members, “‘Why don’t you clean this?’ They said ‘No! Because these are the signs of the Muslim women who come to pray to Mary, mother of Jesus, and as a sign of their prayer, they leave an imprint of their hand.’”
Since Mary is revered by Muslims, he said many expectant mothers visit this church to pray to her for protection.
“This influence, for example of Mary, in people’s daily lives” and similar devotions to prayer, fasting and charity, fostered closer relationships, mutual respect and understanding between Christians and Muslims, he said.
“A modern Iraq, full of history, of possibility and responsibility — not least because of its huge oil resources, which continue to be a source of discord, jealousy, envy, and oppression — should be defended, helped, and supported more than ever,” the cardinal concludes in his book.
While the primary responsibility for allowing Muslim, Christian and other minorities to return to their country and help build its future belongs to Iraq’s three largest communities — Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds — the rest of the world is also “in some way responsible for this crisis,” he told CNS.
“We all have to assume responsibility to rebuild, which is very difficult, because once people emigrate, they very rarely go back,” he said. “But if we can still preserve the coexistence of these even small communities (that remain), this will benefit peace, which is essential so that Christians don’t keep leaving behind this ancient land so rich in culture, tradition and history.”
18 July 2017
In this image from 2016, stray cows sit in the middle of the road in Bangalore, India. This past Sunday, the Catholic church in India criticized growing intolerance and mob violence targeting religious minorities over cow protection. (photo: CNS/Jagadeesh Nv, EPA)
The Catholic church in India criticized growing intolerance and mob violence targeting religious minorities over cow protection.
“The vast majority of the people of India of all communities (have) been shocked at the lynching in various states on the pretext of protecting cows,” said a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India after a 16 July meeting in New Delhi. About 40 religious leaders — Christians along with Baha’i, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh — attended the meeting.
The statement asked the government “to end (the) impunity ... at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today.”
Some Hindus worship the cow as a goddess and oppose slaughter of cows, with some states even running care centers for cows.
The bishops’ statement said lynchings over cows threatened “the constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.”
In a June report, The Times of India said that since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, vigilantes had killed at least 32 Muslims. It said that in most of these attacks, the premise had been allegations of cow slaughter, smuggling, eating or even possessing beef.
Mobs have killed meat and cattle traders in the name of protecting the sacred cow.
“We are going through difficult times. What we see on the TV (lynching) is frightening,” Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Catholic News Service 18 July.
“Hatred is being spread, and attempts are being made to divide the people. We want to create harmony by bringing people of all faiths together,” he said.
The statement urged religious leaders “to assert the inherent unity of the people (to) restore public confidence and remove the mutual growing suspicion.”
At the end of the assembly of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council 8 June, Archbishop Maria Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum criticized the federal government’s move to curb cattle trade in states like Kerala, where beef eating has no cultural inhibition, even among majority Hindus.
“We will never accept a dictum on what we should eat or do,” Archbishop Soosa Pakiam said.
18 July 2017
In the video above, religious and political leaders gathered in Rome discuss repeated attacks on religious freedom around the world. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Mosul needs help to rebuild (CNA) Just days after Iraqi forces completed their recapture of Mosul from the Islamic State, the nation’s ambassador to the Holy See has said that they are eager to rebuild the city and have people return home, but it will require help to do so...
Mosul in ruins: ‘I see only despair around us’ (Al Jazeera) Western Mosul is in ruins. From the tenth floor of a badly damaged hotel in Iraq’s second-largest city, destroyed buildings and roads can be seen for miles on end. There is no building that has not been touched by fights and air attacks. The smell of decaying bodies fills the hot July air...
Separatists claim new state to replace Ukraine (AP) Separatists in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday proclaimed a new state that aspires to include not only the areas they control but also the rest of Ukraine. The surprise announcement in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk casts further doubt on the 2015 cease-fire deal that was supposed to stop fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland and bring those areas back into Kiev’s fold while granting them wide autonomy. It also caught unawares some rebels who said they have no intention of joining the new state...
Freed from prostitution, they’re becoming lawyers pursuing justice in India (Fides) Children systematically mistreated and forced into prostitution with 20 clients per day, without rights, no voice and no one worrying about their inhuman conditions. This is the harsh reality of over a million girls who are victims of child prostitution in India. It is a phenomenon that even the country’s punitive laws are unable to curb. Since April 2014, the Dutch Free a Girl Foundation has proposed to intervene against this hell. Thanks to the School for Justice, 19 young people survived the abuse of exploiters and will be trained so that they go to university and study law...
Climate change threatens an ancient way of life in Ethiopia (The Washington Post) Another drought has seized the Horn of Africa, devastating the livestock herders in these already dry lands. Even as the government and aid agencies struggle to help them, there is a growing realization that with climate change, certain ways of life in certain parts of the world are becoming much more difficult to sustain...
How the ‘Indian Oskar Schindler’ saved Polish children during World War II (Times of Israel) The elegant ballroom of the Indian consulate general in New York has been the venue for many cultural and other events attended by Indian and American audiences. But on 29 June a special event brought two communities, Indians and Jews, together to witness a hitherto unknown chapter of history, captured in a documentary film called “Little Poland in India...”
African migrants hit by new tax in Israel (Reuters) Nine years ago, Teklit Michael fled Eritrea to avoid military conscription, survived a perilous journey across the Sinai peninsula and sought asylum in Israel. The 29-year-old Eritrean community organizer now works as a cook at a restaurant in south Tel Aviv — alone, without family and in legal limbo, awaiting a response to his asylum request. Since May, Michael’s life has faced another challenge with new tax rules that force his employer to put part of his salary in a fund which he can access only if he leaves Israel...
17 July 2017
Fadia Shamieh, from the Palestinian Christian town of Beit Jala, helps youngsters prepare for their meal at the St. Rachel Day Care Center. This church institution provides care, play and education to the children of migrant workers. For more, read Found in Translation in the June 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
17 July 2017
Tags: Israel Jerusalem Catholic Migrants
An Iraqi carries away garbage from his house after his return to his hometown, the predominantly Christian Iraqi village of Qaraqosh, some 20 miles east of Mosul. (photo: Adel Senna/AFP/Getty Images)
The uncertain fate of Iraq’s largest Christian city (Der Spiegel) Before ISIS invaded, Qaraqosh was home to Iraq’s largest Christian community. Now liberated after three years of occupation, little remains and former residents are considering whether it is worth rebuilding in a country with an unclear future…
U.S.C.C.B. leaders say armed attacks near Jerusalem holy sites ‘a desecration’ (CNS) The president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference and two committee chairmen condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the fatal shooting of two Israeli police officers July 14 in Jerusalem’s Old City near some of the world’s holiest sites. “It is a particular desecration to carry out armed attacks in and around sites holy to Muslims and Jews in a city that is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims,” they said in a statement…
Syria takes more oil fields from ISIS (AINA) The Syrian army, backed by heavy Russian air strikes, seized a string of oil wells in southwest province of Raqqa on Saturday, as retreating ISIS militants battle to defend their remaining territory in the country…
Threat of attacks forces Egyptian churches to shut down activities (AsiaNews) Copts have suspended some of their activities — including pilgrimages, summer camps and conferences — for security reasons, fearing new attacks by Islamist extremist groups. The measure, which will remain in force for the months of July and August, was issued following alerts by the Cairo authorities…
Clash between self-proclaimed “Christian militias” operating in the Nineveh Plain (Fides) Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) have blamed the so-called “Babylonian Brigades” for having broken into one of their posts to seize military supplies and, above all, to release six of their militiamen, previously arrested on charges of looting private houses and Christian churches, including the Mar Behnam monastery…
14 July 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Jerusalem
David Safaryan displays one of his paintings from art class. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the June 2017 edition of ONE, Gayane Abrahamyan writes about the exceptional work being done by Caritas in Armenia, with CNEWA’s support, to bring light to the darkness, and help those most in need — especially the elderly and the young:
In one of the large, bright rooms, children stand behind easels, refining pencil sketches and proudly presenting their masterpieces.
The teacher, Vanush Safaryan, is a member of the Painters’ Union of Armenia and a former director of an art school in Artashat. He teaches children not only the craft of drawing and painting, but also the history and appreciation of art more generally.
“Art will save the country,” he says of a country that savors its rich art and architectural heritage. “Let them love the art. Twenty of the children have already chosen this path, so it is already a victory,” he adds.
“We have very bright children; they need to be given freedom and they will reveal themselves.”
The center’s smallest pupil is a 9-year-old named David. David has drawn a picture of construction site, with a worker seated inside a crane and a still-unfinished building nearby.
David lives with his parents and a younger sister in a rented apartment in poor condition. The center offers him an escape, and a sense of hope.
“After school we come here,” he says. “We have dinner, then we play games, draw, do our homework. It is very good.” He stops talking so he can focus on bringing his sketched construction site to life.
Read more in ‘This Is the Only Light’ in the June 2017 edition of ONE.
14 July 2017
Tags: Children Armenia Caritas
Israeli forces take additional security measures after police killed three men who opened fire in Jerusalem’s Old City on 14 July. (photo: Mahmoud Ibrahem/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Attack near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (The Jerusalem Post) Three terrorists opened fire on a group of policemen near Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday morning, killing two Israeli police officers and injuring two more before the attackers were killed by police. The slain officers are Hail Stawi, 30, from Maghar and Kamil Shanan, 22, from Hurfeish both in northern Israel. Officer Shanan was the son of former Israeli Druze Knesset member Shakib Shanan…
Son of Copt killed in Egypt plans to donate funds to build a mosque and church (Fides) Young Coptic Michael Atef Munir, son of one of the victims of the massacre of the Coptic pilgrims killed on 26 May in a jihadist ambush, announced he wants to donate the money that the Egyptian government set aside for the relatives of the victims of terrorism to a mosque and a church in the province of Minya…
Syrians make a new life in Mexico (The Guardian) Hassan is one of 10 young Syrians in Mexico thanks to Project Habesha — a small not-for-profit organization arranging university scholarships for youngsters whose education has been disrupted by the war…
Christian birth rates falling in India (New Indian Express) Sustaining the upward growth rate of Muslim population in the state, the recent Vital statistics Report published by the Director of Panchayats is pointing at a steep climb in birth rate among the Muslim community. While Muslims, who constitute a quarter of the population, have attained the birth rate almost equal to that of the majority Hindu community, the Christian community’s birth rate has fallen…
13 July 2017
Tags: India Egypt Refugees Israel
Dan Searby meets some of the students at Mar Doumit in Lebanon. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: CNEWA donor Dan Searby had a chance to visit Lebanon this spring and see some of CNEWA’s work in the region. He sent us his impressions from the trip, below.
After a spring 2011 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I found myself especially drawn to the faith keeping Christians in the region, the “living stones” who are often overlooked as one tours the holy sites and historical landmarks. Msgr. Peter Vaccari, now rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, subsequently introduced me to CNEWA and its work supporting the church and Christians in the Middle East.
Today CNEWA’s work is more vital than ever and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East has created what Pope Francis recently called “ecumenism of blood.” I wonder if there is a not a silver lining or even a divine design in what is taking place in the region, and that this can all become a force for Christian unity. I believe that CNEWA is uniquely positioned to play a leading role toward this great end.
The intervening years have deepened my relationship with CNEWA and last summer I returned to Israel and Palestine for a “Year of Mercy” pilgrimage led by Msgr. Vaccari. Beyond the rich spiritual experience, the journey included a fascinating briefing by CNEWA’s regional director in Jerusalem, Sami El-Yousef.
Before traveling to Israel, we had spent three days in Rome and on our first stop, at “St. Paul’s Outside the Walls,” we encountered a large group of Lebanese pilgrims. I was struck by their faith journey, and could not imagine the trials they had been through in their native land. I had always dreamed of visiting Lebanon, which is celebrated in the Bible for its beauty, snow-capped mountains, wine and especially Lebanon’s legendary cedars.
Largely through a CNEWA-facilitated correspondence with the Beirut regional director, Michel Constantin, this year I was able to plan out a trip to Lebanon in April, and a visit to Mar Doumit, a convent-run school on Mount Lebanon, outside of Beirut. With Michel out of town, I was met at the airport by his deputy, Kamal Abdel Nour. After navigating Beirut’s notoriously chaotic traffic, we snaked our way up Mount Lebanon and arrived at Mar Doumit.
I was familiar with the school. Last year, right around Christmas, a group of us had supported a call to raise funds for Mar Doumit, to help equip the school with special needs educational materials. When we arrived for our visit, we were met at the school by its headmistress, Sister Juliette. Sister Juliette gathered about half a dozen of her teachers and we sat down and enjoyed coffee, tea and a most generous spread of Lebanese sweets. A group of students took us to the school, which we toured as they demonstrated the new educational materials, including electronic tablets that had just arrived.
The dedication of the teachers and the youthful zeal of the students were most stirring. The visit also helped us see in a very personal way the impact of CNEWA’s work.
Finally, while we often hear the phrase “boots on the ground,” I saw the CNEWA equivalent of “sandals on the ground” in Sister Juliette — one of many heroic sisters in the region who teach, heal, comfort and serve as good shepherds and keepers of the faith.
Dan Searby and Sister Juliette pause for a picture with some of the students of Mar Doumit.
13 July 2017
Dr. Deepa Sasidharan parks his motorcycle outside the offices of Calicut Medical College. Learn how growing up in a Catholic-run institution shaped his life in The Secret of Their Success in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
13 July 2017
A member of the Iraqi federal police walks along destroyed buildings from clashes in Mosul 10 July.
(photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)
Video shows Mosul civilians trapped in a fight that’s not over (The New York Times) The civilians crowd together in a narrow alleyway, stranded near house-to-house fighting and surrounded by the stark devastation of western Mosul, where the battle against the Islamic State was supposed to be over. Video taken from a drone on Monday quickly confirmed that the battle to seize Mosul from the Islamic State continues, and that at least 100 civilians were still trapped by the fighting...
In Ukraine, Cardinal Sandri says there is hope for the future (CNA) Shortly after Pope Francis donated money to help those suffering from Ukraine’s ongoing conflict, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri arrived in the country, saying that while pained, he sees hope for the future. In comments to local Catholic media after landing in Ukraine 11 July, Cardinal Sandri recalled that when he made his first trip to the country several years ago, it was because “in this land was born and is growing, a great hope, a great vision of the future for this Christian country...”
Sole Gaza power station turned off due to fuel crisis (Al Jazeera) The Gaza Strip’s only operating power plant was turned off late on Wednesday due to a severe shortage of fuel, leaving the coastal enclave in a complete blackout, local officials said. Officials at the Hamas-run power corporation said they had turned off the last operating turbine at the plant in southern Gaza city...
Yemen’s foreign minister says kidnapped Salesian still alive (CNS) Yemen’s foreign minister told Indian officials that Salesian Father Thomas Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen last year, is still alive, and efforts to trace him continue. Ucanews.com reported that, during a visit to New Delhi, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi gave his reassurances in a meeting with the Indian external affairs 10 July, said an Indian government statement. It said Father Uzhunnalil is “alive, and the Yemeni government has been making all efforts to secure his release.” It said al-Mekhlafi “assured all cooperation in this regard...”
Russian hostel reopens for Jerusalem pilgrims (BBC) The Russian government is reopening a hostel for Orthodox pilgrims in Jerusalem in a hospice originally built on the orders of a Romanov grand duke, more than 100 years after it closed...
Tags: Iraq India Ukraine Jerusalem Russia