12 September 2014
President Barack Obama gestures during a meeting with Middle East Christian leaders at the
White House on 11 September. (photo: CNS/White House)
Middle East Christian leaders gathered in Washington this week and several had a meeting at the White House with President Obama:
Eight Eastern Christian leaders spent 40 minutes talking to President Barack Obama about the situation of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
“We felt how deeply moved he was by what was happening to the Christians there,” Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Peter Rai, Maronite patriarch, said at a Mass later the same day at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church. The 11 September Mass closed the three-day inaugural In Defense of Christians summit. A conference organizer told Catholic News Service an American businessman from the Middle East sent his private jet to transport the Christian leaders to the summit.
The cardinal said each of the leaders from Eastern Catholic and Orthodox rites had a chance to speak individually to Obama, who the White House said “dropped by National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s meeting at the White House.”
Although the White House did not release details of the discussion, throughout the summit the Christian leaders spoke of the threat to Christians and other minorities posed by Islamic State militants, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Several said they were advocating religious freedom, an inherent right. They spoke of the need for local leaders and the international community to become involved in a solution because, as one Orthodox bishop said, “no one can possibly agree to a beheading.”
A White House statement, read out near the end of the In Defense of Christians summit, said Obama reinforced the U.S. commitment to fight Islamic State militants and other groups that threaten the Middle East, as well as American personnel and interests in the region.
“He underscored that the United States will continue to support partners in the region, like the Lebanese Armed Forces, that are working to counter (Islamic State fighters) and promote regional stability. The delegations agreed on the need for all leaders in the region to reject violence and prejudice and call for moderation, tolerance of other views and religions, and an end to sectarian divisions.
“The president emphasized that the United States recognizes the importance of the historic role of Christian communities in the region and of protecting Christians and other religious minorities throughout the Middle East,” the statement said.
12 September 2014
Tags: Syria Lebanon Iraq
A woman walks at her destroyed house in the village of Kominternovo, Ukraine, near the southern coastal town of Mariupol on 6 September. Ukraine’s Catholic bishops have warned that their country is “flowing in blood” because of fighting between Ukrainian and se paratist forces, and urged Western governments not to become “accomplices in the sin of murder” by failing to
support the country. (photo: CNS/Vasily Fedosenko, Reuters)
Pope to visit Turkey to mark feast of St. Andrew (Vatican Radio) Turkish President Recep Tayyp Erdogan has issued an official invitation to Pope Francis to visit his country. Speaking to journalists on Friday, the head of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi said the Holy See had received the invitation and was preparing for a papal visit to Turkey at the end of November. He added that the duration of the trip and the program for the visit were still to be confirmed. The Pope is expected to visit Istanbul on 30 November to celebrate the feast day of St Andrew, founder of the Eastern Church and patron saint of the Orthodox world...
Chaldean bishop requests more visas for Iraqis (Catholic World News) Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, the head of a Chaldean Catholic eparchy based in San Diego, will travel to the White House with a list of 25,000 Iraqi Catholics who seek entry into the United States. “Requests have been made to White House for an increase in the number of visas issued, to be granted to those who wish and desire to leave Iraq,” reported a California-based Chaldean news site. “In response to a request from the White House, St. Peter’s Diocese has been compiling a list of names for our brothers and sisters in Iraq that want to escape persecution...”
Ukrainian bishops: “Ukraine is bleeding!” (RISU) Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine and Ukrainian settlements from South and North America, Australia and Europe who gathered at the Holy Synod in Lviv, 10 September, appealed to the world community with the words: “Ukraine is bleeding!” Please read the full text of the appeal of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Synod translated by Father Athanasius McVay...
Deal reached on Gaza reconstruction (The New York Times) President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said Thursday night that he had reached an agreement with Israel and the United Nations to allow imports of reconstruction materials into the Gaza Strip, apparently bypassing Hamas to fulfill a key tenet of the cease-fire agreement that halted hostilities on 26 August...
Arab countries ready to join alliance against ISIS (AP) Key Arab allies of the U.S. agreed Thursday to “do their share” to fight against the Islamic State group, promising to take action to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the militants and possibly to join military action. The announcement came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with regional counterparts in the Saudi Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah in an effort to pin down Middle Eastern allies on what support they are willing to give to the U.S. plan to beat back the Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria...
Ukraine president expects his country to join the European Union (The Guardian) Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, has said he expects Ukraine to join the European Union eventually, and said Europe would be safer, richer and younger with his war-torn country as a member. Speaking at a summit in Kiev attended by senior EU leaders, Poroshenko said it would be “impolite” for Brussels to refuse Ukraine what he called a “membership perspective.” “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” he said. He thanked EU states for imposing the latest round of sanctions against Russia, which were published on Friday, despite a tentative ceasefire in the east of Ukraine agreed last week...
Court stops Kerala’s new liquor law (The Hindu) The Supreme Court on Thursday stopped the Kerala government from implementing its new liquor policy under which 730 bar owners were asked to shut shop while sparing five-star hotels. The policy was to be implemented from 12 September. Ordering status quo till 30 September, a Bench of Justices Anil R. Dave and U.U. Lalit left it to the Kerala High Court, which is scheduled to hear the plea of affected bar owners on 18 September, to decide the future course...
11 September 2014
Tags: Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala Turkey Chaldeans
A statue of Mary stands outside of tents that are now home to Iraqi Christian refugees near Erbil, Iraq. To help provide a home — and so much more — for these needy Iraqis,
please visit our giving page. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
11 September 2014
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, leads a prayer during an ecumenical prayer service at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington on 9 September. Christian patriarchs from the Middle East, along with lawmakers and international human rights activists, are attending In Defense of Christians’ three-day summit about the persecution of
Middle Eastern minorities. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
President Obama outlines plan to battle ISIS (The Boston Globe) President Obama on Wednesday outlined a broad battle plan to defeat the Islamic State, including US airstrikes in war-torn Syria and an expanded American military advisory role in Iraq. But he vowed no US ground troops would be engaged in combat. In a prime-time address on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and nearly three years after the withdrawal of US military forces from Iraq, Obama said that the nation faces a grave new threat from the group variously known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL...
Church leaders, laity meet in Washington on behalf of Christians in the Middle East (CNS) Emphasizing that diversity does not preclude unity, nearly a thousand Christian leaders, politicians and laypeople gathered in Washington to launch a massive effort on behalf of the minority communities of the Middle East. High-ranking church leaders representing Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, patriarchs of Eastern churches, members of Congress and Christians in the diaspora came together in Washington for the inaugural In Defense of Christians summit...
Kiev says most Russian forces now out of Ukraine (The New York Times) President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine said on Wednesday that the bulk of Russian forces had withdrawn from Ukrainian territory, a move that he said heightened the chances for a lasting cease-fire in the southeast. Speaking at the start of a cabinet meeting that was broadcast nationally, the president also announced plans to move ahead with a law intended to cement the wobbly truce reached last Friday...
Israel launches investigations into Gaza war conduct (The New York Times) Israel on Wednesday announced it had begun criminal investigations into five instances of possible military misconduct in the 50-day Gaza war, an implicit acknowledgment of sensitivity to the widespread criticism, even among allies like the United States, that Israeli forces had used excessive firepower in a number of highly publicized assaults in the Palestinian territory...
Imams decry ISIS “barbarism” at Canada rally (Catholic Register) Religious leaders, including two Imams, denounced the barbarism of the Islamic State and urged the protection of Iraqi Christians and other minorities during a Parliament Hill rally on on 6 September. Imam Mohamad Jebara of the Cordova Mosque condemned the persecution in a statement read by a representative to about 1,000 people. “Persecution, oppression and tyranny are deplorable and repulsive regardless of who perpetrates them and against whom they are perpetrated,” said Jebara. “I stand in solidarity with my Christian brethren and other minorities who are suffering in the Middle East and condemn acts of intolerance against them as satanic deeds, contrary to the mercy which the scripture calls us to embody...”
10 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Copts
Displaced Iraqi Christians who fled from ISIS militants in Mosul pray at a school acting as a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, on 6 September. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
Editor’s note: Earlier in the summer, we published a letter from Archdeacon Emanuel Yaoukhana, an Iraqi-born priest of the Church of the East, now living in Germany. He recently returned to Iraq and sent the following letter to his friends and acquaintances.
Greetings from Duhok, Iraq.
I would like to share with you the points below, which we heard from the majority of the displaced people we met.
Today there are new realities on the ground in northern Iraq, following the speed with which ISIS took over vast swaths of land — including an area mainly inhabited by non-Muslim indigenous minorities: Christians and Yazidis. Those minorities fear losing their centuries-old culture, faith, livelihood and heritage. The situation of these indigenous people is in real peril if something is not done quickly. They are living with a real fear of extinction and eradication if they are not protected. We believe we need to do that for the following reasons:
They have lost trust in the Iraqi government’s will and capacity to protect them. Iraqi forces left Mosul — or rather surrendered Mosul — and many other areas to ISIS without putting up any fight.
They have lost trust in the K.R.G.’s [Kurdistan Regional Government] capacity to protect them. In some cases the famous Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] escaped without notifying the civilians they were supposed to protect.
They have lost trust in their own neighbors. In the city of Mosul, as well as other cities such as Sinjar and Telkeif, the non-Muslim minorities lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors in peace and tranquility, as long as there was a power that checked the Muslim majority. In the absence of that power, the Muslim neighbors attacked their non-Muslim neighbors — stealing all they can put their hands on just like what happened in the aftermath of the Massacre of Semele [Iraq] in 1933. With the power vacuum that was instigated by the ill-designed policies of the Iraqi government and with the sweeping control of ISIS, it was the neighbors who told ISIS where to find the non-Muslim houses. Victims’ Muslim neighbors served as an incubator to support ISIS terrorists; they not only showed the houses to ISIS, but they also participated in the looting and stealing that ensued.
The perpetuity of these ancient communities becomes, at this point, the responsibility of the world, because they lost all faith in their government and neighbors.
The world has to stop the genocide, displacement and forced migration. That could only be accomplished if we protect these minorities in their own historic lands. We believe this is doable if the world acts on establishing a safe haven area.
It will be good even for those Muslim neighbors, as these thriving minorities will serve as a catalyst to benefit the cultural exchange and coexistence across the Iraqi mosaic.
It will serve as an international example, if marketed wisely to the region and the world. The success of this could serve as a good example of the possibility of different ethnic groups and religions living side by side in peace and harmony.
It will entice the local governments to induce the example into their education systems and eventually to the national level, which will lead to forming laws and regulations where ethnic and religious minorities will not feel they are second-class citizens.
It will prevent further forced migration — and eventually ease the burden on the Western countries who are absorbing these non-Muslim minorities.
It will tell the Muslim majority in Iraq that the persecution of non-Muslims will not be tolerated.
It will force other countries with non-Muslim minorities to be on the watch and treat their non-Muslim minorities fairly.
This is a cry for help, this is an appeal for preservation of an ancient human culture which contributed so immensely to mankind. We hope you will find in your good heart the means and ways to protect these minorities.
Thank you very much.
Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana
To support the suffering men, women and children of Iraq, please visit our giving page. And please keep them all in your prayers.
10 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians
A supermoon is seen above a cross on a church in Jerusalem on 9 September. The astronomical event occurs when the moon is closest to the Earth in its orbit, making it appear much larger and brighter than usual. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
10 September 2014
Pope Francis kisses the forehead of quadrapalegic Salvatore D’Argento from Chieti, Italy, as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 10 September.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope offers message of hope to Christians in the Middle East (VIS) In his greetings in various languages following the catechesis of today’s general audience, Pope Francis addressed the Arab-speaking faithful and in particular those from Syria and the Middle East, to remind them that the Church, following the example of her Master, excels in mercy. “She faces hatred with love, vanquishes violence with forgiveness, and responds to weapons with prayer,” the pope said. He added, “May the Lord reward your faithfulness, inspire you with courage in the struggle against the forces of evil, and open the eyes of those who have been blinded by evil, so that they may soon see the light of truth and repent for the mistakes they have made. May the Lord bless you and protect you always”...
For some Iraqi Christians, returning home is not an option (CNS) Uprooted from his home in Iraq by the advance of Islamic State fighters, Nouree sees no future for Christians in his country. “It’s like a nightmare,” the Chaldean Catholic father of six told Catholic News Service from a modest apartment in Beirut where he and his family have temporarily resettled after fleeing Iraq. “They just came and took our villages,” Nouree said of the militants. Nouree requested that his full name not be used to protect his identity. “It’s not a coincidence. It’s like a plan to rid the region of Christians. We Christians paid the price, and the Yezidis (the minority religious community) did, too,” Nouree said. “Even though they pushed us out, we won’t forget our homeland. This is our past, our history...”
Ukraine president promises greater autonomy to pro-Russian east (AP) Ukraine’s president promised Wednesday to introduce a bill as early as next week that would offer greater autonomy to rebellious regions in the pro-Russia east, where separatists have been battling government troops for almost five months. But President Petro Poroshenko said the regions would remain part of Ukraine and rejected the idea of federalization, something both Russia and the Russian-backed separatists are still pushing for even after a cease-fire that began Friday...
John Kerry arrives in Iraq to build alliance against ISIS (The Washington Post) Secretary of State John F. Kerry came to Iraq on Wednesday to congratulate a new Iraq government on which the United States is basing much of its emerging strategy to counter Islamic State militants. Kerry met with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other senior officials. His visit is timed to precede President Obama’s speech Wednesday evening laying out a multi-pronged plan to confront militants who have seized large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory with stunning speed and battlefield prowess...
Egypt’s mufti condemns Islamic State (Kuwait News Agency) The Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawqy Ibrahim Abdulkareem Allam, Monday condemned the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL or ISIS) as a terrorist and criminal group which in no way represent Islam. Speaking at the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament this evening he said the name "Islamic State" of the group is a misnomer and stressed that Islam does not endorse violent acts and expulsion of people from their homes. ISIL "is carrying out activities which are alien to Islam. They don't represent Islam in any way," underlined the mufti...
9 September 2014
Tags: Syria Egypt Iraq Middle East Ukraine
A nun leads displaced Iraqi Christians in prayer at a school now being used as a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq on 6 September. Erbil now hosts more than 100,000 displaced Christians and other minorities. Learn what you can do to help them here. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
9 September 2014
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople walk past the Stone of Unction during an ecumenical celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem last May. Reports indicate the two may meet again in November in Turkey.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
UN: Ukraine death toll rises above 3,000 (The Guardian) The number of people confirmed killed in the Ukraine conflict has risen above 3,000 if the victims of the MH17 plane crash are included, a senior UN human rights official said on Monday. Ivan Simonovic, the UN assistant secretary general for human rights, said the number of people confirmed killed in fighting since the conflict erupted in April was now 2,729 but rose to over 3,000 if the 298 passengers and crew on the Malaysia Airlines flight were included, which he said they should be, though the true figure could be much higher. “This number includes killings registered based on available resources and ... the actual number may be significantly higher,” he told an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)...
Iraq approves new government (The Washington Post) Under huge international and domestic pressure, Iraq swore in a new government on Monday, opening the way for an expansion of U.S. military support to fight Islamist extremists in the country. The vote to approve a new cabinet came during a fiery late-night parliamentary session. Key positions, including those of the defense and security chiefs, were left open amid controversy over who would fill them. Now confirmed as prime minister, Haider al-Abadi said he would name candidates for those positions within a week...
Pope sends condolences to family of Steven Sotloff (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has expressed his sorrow for the death of slain US journalist Steven Sotloff, urging people everywhere to reject violence, aggression and lack of compassion. His words came in a telegram of condolences addressed to Sotloff’s family and signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin on behalf of the Pope...
Report: Pope may visit Turkey this year (Catholic News Agency) Pope Francis may visit Turkey 29-30 November, strengthening the links with the Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and advancing their common commitment to ecumenism, peace and ecology. The possible papal voyage to Turkey was discussed by Nikos Tzoitis, an expert in ecumenical dialogue who had served as spokesperson of Patriarch Bartholomew, to whom he is very close...
8 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine Turkey
A Palestinian boy runs next to destroyed buildings in Gaza City last month.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, visited Gaza last week, and CNS reports on what he saw:
Gazans are frustrated that, despite all the sacrifice and loss of life, nothing has changed for them, except perhaps having more fishing rights, said a Catholic aid official.
“Clearly there is anger felt, [but] people are cautious who they speak to and keep [their opinions] to themselves,” said Sami El-Yousef, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Palestine and Israel.
One Palestinian to whom he spoke told of the destruction caused by Hamas and its failure to meet the needs of the average person, El-Yousef said after a three-day visit to the Gaza Strip.
He said that, walking through the streets, he saw widespread destruction to both residential and commercial property, and directors of partner organisations who thought they would never see him again broke into tears at their meeting as they told him of their experiences.
Toward the end of his visit he could see lines of public employees at ATM machines late at night, waiting to receive their wages.
El-Yousef said people spoke about the eeriness of the precise intelligence information the Israelis had. He said he heard several stories of incidents in which the Israeli warnings to the civilian population were very exact — all the way down to knowing the names of people living in certain buildings and who had left a building and who had not following a warning. People told him the Israelis would call back someone who had not left, asking them to leave.
“In the eyes of most people there was a concerted effort [by the Israelis] to try to give sufficient warning, unless there was an immediate danger of shooting by militants in the area or unless it was the home of an intended operative. Some families responded and others didn’t,” said El-Yousef.
He said that during and immediately following the 50-day summer war, Christian institutions in Gaza were able to provide assistance to those most in need. The war left 2000 Palestinians dead, thousands injured, some 100,000 people homeless and immeasurable societal destruction in its wake.
“Christian institutions took their natural place by being responders, being alert to the community and providing services,” El-Yousef said. “They were [among] the first to respond. People are very appreciative.”
Read the full story here.
And visit this page to learn how you can help those struggling to cope in Gaza.