10 August 2016
In this image from December 2015, a refugee prays Christmas day at a camp in Calais, France. Iraqi Christians appear divided about whether they will be able to return home after ISIS militants are flushed out of the battle-scarred Ninevah Plains region. (photo: CNS/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)
Iraqi Christians appear divided about whether they will be able to return home after Islamic State militants are flushed out of the battle-scarred Ninevah Plains region. They say their safety must be guaranteed at all costs.
“If the liberation of the Ninevah Plains region is successful, infrastructure is rebuilt and there is security, I would want to be among the first to return,” said Fadi Yousif, who teaches displaced children in the Ashti II camp for displaced Christians in Ain Kawa, near Irbil. “It’s my home. I love that place. But what is absolutely essential is that we have real security there.”
Housed in an unfinished concrete building, Yousif and other displaced people live in containers that take the place of homes lost to the Islamic State. He said his home region would be a different place from what he remembers due to the dispersal of friends and family abroad because of the long wait to rid the area of the Islamist extremists.
“About 60 percent of my friends are now living in exile, whether in neighboring countries or Europe. My mother, father and two sisters are now in Lebanon. I have a brother in Jordan. My uncle is in the United States. Only another brother and I are still in Iraq,” he said. It was unclear whether Yousif’s family would regather in Iraq following the liberation.
Um Fadi, a 37-year-old Chaldean Catholic mother, also is concerned about safety. She and her family of six live in Ashti II.
“I swear, I never saw something like this except in a horror film. But I actually witnessed people being killed and saw dead bodies with my own eyes,” she said of her escape from the Islamic State’s assault on her village of Qaraqosh two years ago.
“Of course, we are frightened to return. What are we going back to? The houses and churches have been bombed. My children, particularly my youngest son, is very frightened about the idea of returning there,” Um Fadi told Catholic News Service.
Other Christians like, Saif Haney, told CNS they will never go back home because they heard that Islamic State militants used their family houses as execution dens.
Some Iraqi Christian political leaders are calling for the inclusion of armed Christian militias to participate in the liberation of Mosul and the Ninevah Plains, their ancestral homeland, alongside U.S.-led coalition forces, Iraqi troops and Kurdish fighters.
Although that may not happen, Christian political leaders such as Yousif Yaqoob Matti want to see Christian defense forces built up to protect Mosul and the Ninevah Plains after their liberation. They said this is necessary because although many Christians would prefer to have an international force, such as U.N. peacekeepers in the area, this is unlikely to happen.
“The battle for the Ninevah Plains against Islamic State will be complex, but the military forces involved must perform as one, unified entity,” Matti told CNS.
“After the liberation, demining efforts will take place and electricity, water and other necessary infrastructure will need to be rebuilt. It is hoped that after four months, people may be able to return safely.”
Bahman Maalizadeh of the North Carolina-based Norooz Foundation has traveled to Mosul’s frontline villages ahead of the offensive. His and other nongovernmental organizations have provided badly needed food and medicine to displaced Christians and Yezidis.
“There is a small Christian force left to protect so many lands,” Maalizadeh told CNS. “It is so important for the international community to help these forces to not only protect the land, which they have, but once the area is liberated, to provide security to ensure that Christians can return home.”
A man who identified himself only as John, a Syriac Catholic from Hamdaniyya, is Um Fadi’s neighbor in Ashti II camp. Although he and his family are desperate to forget the past and to leave Iraq, that might not be possible.
“We can’t leave Iraq, but we want to. Although Kurdistan has been kind to us, there is really no work here, so we have run out of money,” he told CNS. “We have to have a future for ourselves and our kids, so we need to go somewhere else. We don’t see that happening in Iraq because so many wars and conflicts have erupted here.”
He and his family have already been displaced already twice: They had to flee the capital, Baghdad, for safety to Hamdaniyya and then escape to Ain Kawa following the Islamic State takeover of their area.
“Frankly, money isn’t the objective. The only thing we want in life is what everybody else wants,” he told CNS. “It’s to be able to live in your own home without any concern about what can happen to your kids. I want my children to grow up that way, feeling secure.”
10 August 2016
A Syrian fighter sits next to two food containers and a mirror in Douma, Syria, on 28 July. Pope Francis said 7 August that innocent men, women and children are paying the ultimate price in the continuing conflict raging in Syria. Wednesday, Turkey and Russia announced a meeting to find a solution to the conflict. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Badra, EPA)
Turkey, Russia to discuss solution for Syria (AP) A delegation of Turkish foreign ministry, military and intelligence officials is traveling to Russia for discussions on finding a solution to the Syria conflict, Turkey’s foreign minister said Wednesday. The announcement by Mevlut Cavusoglu came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg for the first time since the countries agreed to mend relations soured by Turkey’s downing of a Russian plane in November...
Israeli prosecutors charge UN employee in Gaza with aiding Hamas (The New York Times) Israeli prosecutors on Tuesday charged a Palestinian employee of the United Nations in the Gaza Strip with providing material assistance to Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the territory, including helping to build a jetty for its military wing...
Russia accuses Ukraine of incursion (Reuters) Russia’s Federal Security Service said on Wednesday it had thwarted two armed Ukrainian attempts to get saboteurs into Crimea and dismantled a Ukrainian spy network inside the annexed peninsula. The FSB accused Ukrainian special forces of planning to carry out terrorist attacks inside Crimea targeting critical infrastructure and said an FSB employee and a Russian soldier had been killed in clashes with Ukrainian forces...
Muslim woman is helping Christians displaced by ISIS (Christian Post) Many are familiar with “The Vicar of Baghdad,” Canon Andrew White, the head of one of the most prominent relief charities helping thousands of Christians displaced by ISIS, but many don’t know that much of the work White gets credit for is actually carried out by a Muslim woman...
Syrian refugee relishes her Olympic dream (BBC) Syrian refugee Rami Anis says earning a standing ovation at Rio 2016 after setting a personal best in the men’s 100m freestyle is a “dream come true.” Anis clocked 54.25 seconds to finish 56th out of 59 swimmers in the heats. The 25-year-old fled war-torn Syria in 2015, travelling by boat across the Mediterranean Sea to Turkey before continuing to Belgium...
9 August 2016
Selim Sayegh served for many years as the Latin patriarchal vicar of Jordan.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Selim Sayegh was an auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem, serving for many years as the Latin patriarchal vicar of Jordan, based in Amman. He worked closely with CNEWA, particularly helping the poor and marginalized, most notably refugees and children.
Before he took mandatory retirement in 2012 at the age of 75, he chatted with us about the country he served:
Jordan is now passing through a difficult political and economic stage and we pray to God that we can overcome it in peace, and that we always proceed toward the best with clear thinking, wisdom and responsibility. We all know that achieving the best is not done by one push on the button or remote control, but it needs a strong will, time, planning, work and lots of sacrifices.
...The state does not consider the Iraqi migrants in Jordan as migrants, but as guests. Lawfully, they are not under the migrant’s laws and regulations. They are living in peace and enjoy security and privileges that cost the Jordanian government millions yearly. The government, for example, supports “bread for all” Jordanians and non-Jordanians. A minority from the Iraqi migrants is rich and does not need any support.
The church helps them in any way possible, especially through the Caritas Jordan and CNEWA/Pontifical Mission.
He also touched on a project close to his heart, the Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, a haven for children who are handicapped or developmentally disabled.
ONE: One of your most important initiatives has been Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman. Where did you get that idea?
Bishop Selim Sayegh: Our Lady of Peace Center addressed two prominent needs of the Church in Jordan. The first need is the service of the handicapped. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem established its schools and charitable institutions in Jordan in the middle of 19th century, but it has no institution or activity to look after the handicapped in Jordan. They are the poorest of the poor and most in need of services and help. I saw that the church should have a place to perform her duty and witness to Christian charity in this field.
The second need is to assist the church youth movements. The Christian youth in Jordan did not have any place for their spiritual retreats, camps, and other activities. In addition to this, Jordan was and still is the only country in the Middle East that welcomes those coming from Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, the nations of Europe and other countries. Many times, convents and organizations related to the Church ask us to arrange a place for their meetings in the Middle East. We all trust that the collaboration between [CNEWA] and Our Lady of Peace Center will last, so that it can continue to serve the handicapped freely to the glory of God. Jesus said: “Let them see your good works, that they will give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Selim Sayegh’s heroic dedication to the suffering and marginalized in Jordan has had an enduring impact — and we have no doubt his own “good works” will “give glory” for years to come.
Below is a video of the bishop, whom we also profiled in 2009 during the Year for Priests.
9 August 2016
In this picture from 10 August 2014, children flee violence from forces loyal to ISIS in Sinjar, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
Two years ago this week, the world was beginning to grasp the full extent of the horror unfolding in Iraq.
On 3 August 2014, the Sinjar Massacre had taken place in northern Iraq, killing thousands of Yazidis as ISIS began to storm the region.
On 6 August, members of ISIS swarmed through large swaths of the Nineveh Plain, and Christians began literally running for their lives. As we reported in the pages of our magazine:
The sixth day of August promises to be a date that will be seared into the Iraqi Christian psyche for quite some time: That is the day Iraqi Christendom finally — and maybe definitively — succumbed to extremists and much of the population was sent fleeing.
The exodus was rapid and frantic, beginning in the evening of 6 August. Families recount how they had 15 minutes to half an hour to grab what they could and leave, ahead of the rapid arrival of ISIS. The roads were choked with families in cars and on foot — Chaldean and Syriac Catholics, Copts and Armenians, but also Yazidis and Shiite Muslims from all over Nineveh — all fleeing the particular brand of ISIS fundamentalism. They headed east, to Iraqi Kurdistan and the protection of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces there. By the next morning, the heartland of Christian Iraq was firmly in the hands of ISIS.
“My father sold his own mother’s gold and took a loan from the government so he could build our house, and then everything was gone in 15 minutes,” says Wissam Abdul Hadi. “He worked for years and lost everything in a few minutes.”
The sense of loss and the incomprehension of the sudden, new reality are common to many of the displaced families. Beyond the shared narrative of expulsion, the personal stories issuing from the camps, church grounds and repurposed schools and social centers housing displaced Christians are varied and many.
On 8 August, the US-led airstrikes began.
As the months that followed stretched into years, CNEWA responded — and through the selfless generosity of our donors, we have been able to provide some sense of security and hope to so many whose lives and destinies seemed hopeless. Some 120,000 Christians were displaced, scattered from towns and villages across the Nineveh Plain and forced to start over in distant cities and refugee camps, often with only the clothes on their backs.
Last summer, journalist Don Duncan described the way life had changed for the displaced — but also noted what dedication, charity and compassion had been able to achieve:
Members of the Rifo family gather in their temporary dwelling in Sulimaniyeh, Iraqi Kurdistan, in September 2014. (photo: Don Duncan)
The unfinished building across from St. Joseph’s Church in Ain Kawa, once the scene of despair and misery, now lies empty, its walls newly plastered. The formerly congested grounds of the church can breathe again. The public schools that housed two to three families to a room now ring with the sound of children learning once again. On the surface, it is almost as if all the suffering never took place.
Families have been moved from emergency tent dwellings into rented houses and container housing elsewhere in Erbil — many in the Kasnazan neighborhood at the edge of the city. And although their situation has improved over the past eight months, they are still displaced, largely jobless and uncertain what the future holds.
Throughout this trauma, a backbone of support for the displaced Christians has been the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, some 73 of whom were also exiled from their convents across the plain. Led by Sister Maria Hanna, mother superior, the community initially administered to the displaced from their convent in Ain Kawa. As families were moved from Ain Kawa to Kasnazan, it became clear a second, satellite convent was required.
“We want to be with the people — to serve the people in the moment,” says Sister Maria. “If they move someplace else, we move with them.”
This past spring, CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, made a pastoral visit to the region, and he told an interviewer it left an indelible impression:
In this image from April, CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, walks through a camp for displaced Iraqis in Dawodiya, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
What I saw was this blend of terrible sadness, and yet amazing charity and hope. Sadness, because these people who had come from Mosul or the plains of Nineveh — their families go back centuries and centuries, some to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle — had to abandon their homes in a couple of hours’ notice and couldn’t bring anything. They brought their children, obviously, and they brought their elders. The priests and nuns accompanied them on the [10-hour] walk, and they made it safely there. All these people want to do is go back home.
What’s hopeful is that they still have an extraordinarily vivid faith — their resilience is nothing less than profound. What’s moving as well is the remarkable charity and hospitality with which the Christians of Kurdistan have welcomed them.
While this story has dropped off the front pages, the plight of suffering Christians in Iraq cannot be forgotten. The crisis continues. The video report below, from Rome Reports, tells part of the story:
As the Iraqi people work to rebuild their lives, CNEWA continues to accompany them with the sense of mission, and sense of hope, that have defined us for 90 years. The displaced people of Iraq are always in our prayers. We know they are praying, too, for so many of the selfless, largely anonymous men and women — our donors — who have helped to sustain them over the last two years.
If you’d like to remember the people of Iraq in a special way during this time, please visit this page. Every gift, and every prayer, makes a difference. Thank you!
Faithful celebrate Mass and welcome Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York in Inishke, Iraq, on 10 April. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
9 August 2016
Migrants gather to celebrate Mass in Rehovot, Israel. The challenges many migrants in Israel face are significant. Check out the Summer 2016 edition of ONE to learn more about people Surviving Without a Country in the Promised Land. (photo: CNEWA)
9 August 2016
Opposition fighters drive a tank in an eastern government sieged neighborhood of Aleppo. The UN says children in Aleppo are at grave risk of disease. (photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)
UN: water and power cuts threaten millions in Syria (BBC) Children in the Syrian city of Aleppo are at “grave risk” of disease unless water supplies are immediately repaired, the UN children’s agency says. The United Nations says an immediate pause in fighting is needed to allow the water and electricity networks to be fixed. Some two million people are without vital supplies, the UN says...
More than 26,000 detained in Turkey crackdown (The Independent) The number of people detained by Turkish authorities following the failed coup to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has passed 26,000. The justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, told the state-run Anadolu Agency that 16,000 of those had been formally arrested and taken into custody while 6,000 detainees were being processed and almost 8,000 suspects remain free but under investigation...
Ukraine steps up military activity (Ukraine Today) Ukraine has deployed more military equipment and forces to strengthen its army units in the Kherson region — near the administrative border between mainland Ukraine and Russia-annexed Crimea. This was confirmed by Speaker of Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces Vladyslav Seleznev, according to Krym. Realii...
Lebanese athletes refuse to travel with Israel team in Rio (BBC) Lebanese athletes refused to share a bus with the Israel team to get to Friday’s Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony, members of both teams said. Lebanon and Israel are officially at war and have no diplomatic relations. The incident happened as the Lebanon team sat on the bus waiting to head to the Maracana stadium, before demanding the Israeli athletes must not board...
Caritas Jordan launches new project (Vatican Radio) Caritas Jordan celebrated the launching of a new project “Preparing to Excel in Emergency Response — PEER” on Monday, in the conference-center of a hotel in Amman. The project will be implemented by Caritas Jordan Volunteers Centre and in partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and aims to increase synergies and interaction capabilities among Christian groups in Jordan who are engaged in various programs in order to face humanitarian emergencies...
8 August 2016
The new Refugee Olympic Team arrives for the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro on 5 August. In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world. (photo: CNS/David Gray, Reuters)
In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world.
Naming each of the team’s athletes from South Sudan, Syria, Congo and Ethiopia, Pope Francis said he had read some of the interviews with team members “so that I could get closer to your lives and your aspirations.”
“I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio — that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity,” he said in the message, signed in late July.
The 2016 Summer Games marked the first time a refugee team officially participated in the Olympics. Team members marched under the Olympic flag and, in the event a team member wins a medal, the Olympic anthem was to be played instead of the national anthem of the athlete’s home country.
Pope Francis expressed his hope that through the team “humanity would understand that peace is possible, that with peace everything can gained, but with war all can be lost.”
“Your experience serves as testimony and benefits us all,” the pope told team members.
Yusra Mardini, 18, was the first member of the team to compete in Rio. The swimmer is ranked 41st among women swimmers competing in the 100-meter butterfly; Mardini finished first in her initial heat on 6 August.
Like tens of thousands of Syrians, Mardini fled her war-torn country through Lebanon and Turkey. She found a space on a rubber dingy to make her way to Lesbos, Greece, but the motor stalled. She, her sister and another woman — the only people on the boat who could swim — pushed the boat to shore.
From Greece, Mardini traveled on to Germany, where she was given official refugee status in March and continued her training as a competitive swimmer.
Five of the athletes — including Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 23, the team’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony — are South Sudanese refugees who were living in the huge Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
The national Olympic committees of the refugees’ host countries, the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Olympic Committee chose the team members. The IOC provided the athletes uniforms and is covering their costs and those of the team’s coaches and staff.
8 August 2016
In the video above, Pope Francis renews his call for peace in Syria and denounces the lack of will from those with power to end the war. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope renews call for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis renewed his condemnation of violence and his call for peace in Syria on Sunday. The Holy Father’s appeals came following the Angelus prayer with the faithful gathered beneath the window of the Papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace...
Is Syrian peace attainable? (Catholic Register) Pope Francis has put the full weight of his global pulpit behind a Caritas Internationalis campaign urging governments, especially in the West, to get on with the business of ensuring a negotiated peace in Syria. “Syria: Peace is Possible” launched July 5 with a video by Pope Francis urging the world community to work and pray for peace in Syria...
Attacks on Christians in Egypt raise alarms (USA TODAY) Residents in the southern Egyptian village of Naj al-Nassara watched in horror as their beloved Archangel Mikhail Coptic Church burned to the ground. “We heard deafening sounds of explosions and crackling as the interior of the church gave way,” said Salim Qamhi, a farmer in Naj al-Nassara. “The fire had eaten up everything — the wooden sanctuary, the icons, the pews and the books.” The fire in mid-July came amid a rash of recent attacks that have alarmed Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who blame the government for doing too little to protect them. About 10% of Egypt’s mostly Muslim population of 90 million are Christian — one of the oldest Christian communities in the world...
Erdogan backs return of death penalty following failed coup attempt (BBC) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told a vast rally in Istanbul that he would approve the return of the death penalty if it was backed by parliament and the public. He was speaking to a crowd of at least a million who had gathered in Turkey’s biggest city...
Caritas Lebanon reopens center for refugee women (Fides) A place to welcome, care for and accompany foreign women, who have often taken refuge in Lebanon and have been left alone or marginalized, with the risk of being victims of violence: this is the aim of the refuge called “The Oak,” a reception center reserved to women that Caritas Lubano has recently reopened, turning it into a comfortable, safe and welcoming place for women and their children...
Mercy, poor at center of Mother Teresa canonization events (Vatican Radio) The poor, the suffering and those who minister to them will be at the center of celebrations leading up to the canonization of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata at the Vatican. The main event — the canonization Mass — will begin at 10:30 a.m. 4 September, the Vatican announced on 5 August. A “family feast” for the poor, a musical, Masses and prayer vigils will precede her canonization, according to programs published by the Vatican and by the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded...
Pope sends letter to Refugee Olympic Team in Rio (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis sent a letter to the Refugee Olympic Team as they prepared to compete in the Olympic Games 2016 taking place in Rio de Janeiro, wishing each of them success in the competition...
5 August 2016
In this image from May, children at the Saint Gabriel Primary Government School in Ethiopia greet visitors. They are among thousands of young people who are contending with a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa. Learn how you can help the hungry hold on to life by
visiting this page. (photo: John E. Kozar)
5 August 2016
Refugees’ tents are damaged after Russian airstrikes hit the Etarib district of Aleppo, Syria,
on 4 August 2016. (photo: Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Religious freedom threatened by Turkey’s response to coup (The Catholic Register) Civil service purges and mass arrests in Turkey since a 15 July failed coup attempt are bad news for religious freedom in what has been one of the Muslim world’s most open and democratic societies, said Canada’s former ambassador for religious freedom...
UN considers role in “deeply flawed” humanitarian plan for Syria (The Guardian) The United Nations is considering overseeing a Russian proposal to create humanitarian corridors for civilians who wish to leave besieged Aleppo, despite strong opposition from aid organizations. Confidential documents seen by the Guardian detailing internal UN deliberations on the Kremlin’s proposal, described as “deeply flawed” by humanitarian agencies, reveal the contours of a debate inside an organisation that wants to provide assistance to suffering civilians in Aleppo but fears being seen as an accomplice in an onslaught that has left a quarter of a million civilians under siege....
World Vision manager charged with funneling funds to Hamas (The New York Times) The Palestinian manager of the Gaza branch of World Vision, a major Christian aid organization, was charged by Israeli prosecutors on Thursday with infiltrating the charity on behalf of Hamas and funneling about $43 million in the group’s funds over the past six years to the military wing of the Islamist militant group...
Catholics protest demolition of cathedral in India (Vatican Radio) Tension prevailed at Tarapet in the city on the intervening night of Sunday and Monday when the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) authorities faced resistance from the clergy and lay people for demolishing a portion of the Roman Catholic church St. Peter’s Cathedral as part of the road-widening project. The church was built more than 100 years ago and is of undisputed cultural and artistic value...
Weddings offer break from gloom in Gaza (AP) In a time with little to be joyous about in Gaza, weddings have emerged as welcome festivities that offer a break from the often morose mood in the strip. The coastal territory has faced three wars with Israel over the last decade and a stifling blockade imposed by both Israel and Egypt after the Islamic militant Hamas group violently overran the territory in 2007. But for the happy couple and their families, a wedding is both a respite from daily hardships and a focal point in the lives of both the well-off and the poor...