21 April 2016
Dominican Sister Elene kisses 4-year old Luis Firas as he walks to a preschool in Ainkawa, Iraq. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena were displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and have established schools and other ministries among the displaced.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Paul Jeffrey of Catholic News Service accompanied Cardinal Timothy Dolan on his recent trip to northern Iraq, and got to meet some of the extraordinary women who are serving the displaced in Kurdistan:
When the Islamic State group rolled across Iraq’s Ninevah Plain in 2014, tens of thousands of Christians fled for their lives to Kurdish-controlled areas of the country. They still wait in limbo in crowded camps, facing an undefined future. The only certainty they enjoy is knowing that whatever happens to them, a group of Dominican nuns will be at their side.
“We will not leave our people. Wherever they go, we will go with them,” said Sister Luma Khudher, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.
The Iraqi congregation was founded in Mosul in the late 19th century and, over the decades, the nuns have operated schools and clinics throughout the country. In the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion, many of their facilities became refuges for families displaced by the violence.
By 2014, driven out of Mosul by the Islamic State, many of the nuns were in Qaraqosh, where they were repeatedly assured that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters would protect the city. But the Kurdish troops pulled out late 6 August 2014, and the sisters were among the last to hurriedly flee for their lives.
Sister Khudher drove one of the convent’s four vehicles, the sisters packed tight as they crept along the dark and crowded highway to Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. It took 10 hours to cover 30 miles.
“Our superior was with me in the car, and she wouldn’t let the sisters cry so that I could focus on driving,” Khudher said. “When we finally got here I couldn’t stop crying. All of a sudden I had to face the reality that I was not in my hometown anymore. I had left my church, my convent, I had left everything behind. And the people, like Jesus says in the Gospel, were like sheep without a shepherd.”
As tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis poured into Erbil and other areas, the Kurdish regional government, facing the collapse of its own oil-fueled economy, had few resources to offer. The country’s central government was far away in Baghdad and not overly concerned about a bunch of displaced Christians and other minorities.
It was the church that stepped into the breach, appealing for resources from around the world, organizing displaced families in tents, solving the myriad problems of a population that had lived a middle-class life back home, yet which had to flee with no advance notice, and thus no chance to bring along much more than the clothes they wore.
“We were in shock. We didn’t know if it was day or night. We just looked at each other and looked at the people and tried to listen to them. We tried to be strong for the others, but we were all the same,” Sister Khudher said. “Sister Maria (Hanna, the congregation’s superior) said we would start with diapers and milk. So we went to different camps, and it was my first time to learn that diapers have numbers. I was handing them out and someone would say, ‘Sister, this is not the size I need.’ I didn’t know diapers came in sizes.”
Diapers and milk soon became blankets and tarps and food. The nuns became the de facto managers of aid for much of the displaced community.
Dominican Sister Ferdos Zora sings with students in a preschool for displaced children
in Ainkara, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
“The sisters were everywhere. When we asked about the needs of the displaced no one could answer with any authority except the Dominican sisters,” Michel Constantin, the regional director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told Catholic News Service.
“There was a vacuum in the local church, which wasn’t ready to deal with such a situation. And the displaced priests weren’t trained to deal with this crisis. The sisters were more educated, they’d already been involved in social work with their clinics and schools and orphanages, and they were in direct contact with the people on the ground,” said Constantin, who quickly helped the congregation set up a clinic.
The Dominican sisters were not the only religious order around, but Constantin said they were unique.
“We talked with other congregations, but some said they didn’t know how to deal with refugees. Or they spoke different languages. Some said this wasn’t their mandate. But the Dominican sisters never talked about mandates. They said there’s a need and we’ll work day and night to meet it,” he said.
The sisters were also selfless, not mentioning their own miserable living conditions. Several elderly nuns died in the first few difficult months in Erbil.
“When we had asked the sisters about what was needed, they never mentioned themselves. They only talked about the needs of the people,” Constantin said.
Constantin says a group of Lebanese nuns collected their own funds to help the Dominican sisters with underwear, soap and shampoo for personal use.
The sisters expanded their medical work, adding mobile clinics to reach the displaced living in remote villages. And with local schools teaching in Kurdish, they began opening schools and preschools in Arabic and Aramaic for the displaced.
That’s just the beginning. Read the full story here. And visit this giving page to learn how you can support the sisters in their work with the displaced people of Iraq.
21 April 2016
Sister Rosily Karuthedath works among the poorest of the poor at Grace Home in India.
In India, there is a thriving and devoted order of sisters committed to caring for those who have been forgotten, tossed aside, or neglected. The Nirmala Dasi sisters — Servants of God, in English — often care for the poorest of the poor, especially the sick:
Working with a strong but gentle faith, the Nirmala Dasi Sisters bring love and healing to people otherwise overlooked by society. Irrespective of caste and creed, all those whom the sisters care for are welcomed and accepted as children of God.
For all their energy and effort, they do not consider taking any remuneration for their services. Poverty is stipulated in their constitution.
“We eat, pray and work, everyone together, all the time,” said a sister who works at the Damien Institute, a hospital for people with Hansen’s disease staffed by the religious and supported by Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
One of the heroic women leading this great work is Sister Rosily Karuthedath, whom we profiled during our celebration of the Year of Sisters:
In sprawling cities and tiny villages across India, millions of people endure lives of struggle and abuse. For the poorest of the poor who also live with HIV and AIDS, that struggle can be totally overwhelming.
Sister Rosily Karuthedath knows how much they suffer. In the village of Peringadoor, she and four other Nirmala Dasi Sisters have run an oasis of hope called Grace Home since 1999. On a slender budget bolstered with funds from Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the sisters provide shelter, food and medical support for sixty-five HIV infected patients, including thirty children.
For the poor and ill who arrive at Grace Home, the door is always open. And the caring sisters are always inside. “We believe in giving acceptance and dignity to the patients, even if they are socially isolated and discriminated against,” Sister Rosily says. “We attempt to fill the emptiness experienced by the patients with love, concern and care.”
Sister Rosily is offering a home to those who suffer — a home, literally, of Grace.
21 April 2016
A restorer in Jordan displays fragments of a recovered mosaic (left) and a reproduction of a finished product. In 2001, archeologists made exciting new discoveries at the site where it is believed Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. To learn more about what they uncovered, check out Bethany Beyond the Jordan in the January-February 2002 edition of our magazine.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
21 April 2016
Italian navy personnel, left, approach a rubber dinghy filled with refugees in the Sicilian Channel in the Mediterranean Sea in March. There are new fears that hundreds are dead after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean on Monday. (photo: Italian Navy/Associated Press)
Hundreds of refugees feared dead in Mediterranean shipwreck (AP) As many as 500 people are feared dead after a shipwreck last week in the Mediterranean Sea, two international groups said Wednesday, describing survivors’ accounts of panicked passengers who desperately tried to stay afloat by jumping between vessels... The tragedy ranks among the deadliest in recent years on the often-treacherous sea voyage along the central Mediterranean by refugees and migrants from Africa, the Middle East and beyond who have traveled in droves hoping to reach relatively peaceful and wealthy Europe...
UN undertakes evacuation in Syria (Newsweek) A U.N.-backed humanitarian operation to evacuate hundreds of wounded people from four Syrian towns began on Wednesday, with the support of relief agencies. The Syrian Red Crescent in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross began to evacuate some 250 people from two Syrian towns — Zabadani and Madaya, near the Lebanese border — under siege by pro-government fighters...
Christian school workers demand reform of Palestinian social security system (Fides) Christian school workers participated in the demonstration in which thousands of Palestinians called for a new social security reform and expressed their disagreement with the decree law that currently governs the social security and pension system in Palestine. The sit-in, organized by different unions, was held yesterday in front of the council of ministers, in Ramallah. The protesters demand new representation in negotiations also for the 350 thousand workers in the private sector, and the establishment of a minimum unemployment benefit in favor of 400 thousand unemployed...
Dominican nuns in Iraq keep hope alive (CNS) When the Islamic State group rolled across Iraq’s Ninevah Plain in 2014, tens of thousands of Christians fled for their lives to Kurdish-controlled areas of the country. They still wait in limbo in crowded camps, facing an undefined future. The only certainty they enjoy is knowing that whatever happens to them, a group of Dominican nuns will be at their side. “We will not leave our people. Wherever they go, we will go with them,” said Sister Luma Khudher, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena...
Ukraine, Russia agree to prisoner exchange (Vatican Radio) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has agreed to a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure the release of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko who is serving a 22-year jail sentence in Russia. The presidents of Russia and Ukrainia had a telephone conversation over the fate of jailed high-profile prisoners, raising the possibility of a swap. The call came after Ukraine jailed two alleged Russian special forces soldiers for several crimes including terrorism...
Latest attack on Christians in India confirms climate of fear (Crux) A second attack in two months on Pentecostal Christians in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, a fast-developing region known for electricity and steel, brings into sharp focus the insecurity facing the miniscule Christian minority in India, as well as the climate of impunity for radical Hindu groups menacing them...
Pope remembers victims of Chernobyl on 30th anniversary (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday prayed for the victims of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station disaster 30 years from the tragedy. Addressing the various groups of pilgrims of different nationalities present in St. Peter’s Square for the General Audience, the Pope had special greetings for those from Ukraine and Belarus...
20 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets the faithful as he enters a church in Inishke, Iraq, on 10 April.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave an interview to National Catholic Register about his recent trip to Iraq:
Cardinal Timothy Dolan remembered the anguish in the voice of a Christian martyr’s mother. The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, informally called Iraqi Kurdistan, is a haven for many such mothers, whose tears watered the day’s march from Mosul and their ancestral home, the Nineveh Plain.
“They taunted me as they were murdering my son; because they said, ‘She is a Christian; she must forgive us,’” Cardinal Dolan recounted, as the mother held before him the picture of her beloved son. When militants from the Islamic State group, known as Daesh by its foes, overran Mosul and the Nineveh Plain in June 2014, more than 110,000 Christian inhabitants of northern Iraq — Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Catholic and Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, but all the descendants of ancient Nineveh — literally walked away from all of their earthly possessions rather than give up their faith. As Cardinal Dolan and a delegation of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) saw during a trip to the region earlier this month, some even gave up their lives.
In this 14 April interview with the Register, Cardinal Dolan speaks about his visit with Christian refugees, their powerful witness of faith, love and sacrifice, and American Christians’ duty to support vigorously the suffering Christians who have given all — families that have given the Church martyrs — to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
When you went to Iraqi Kurdistan to visit the Church there, what did you see?
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.
You and the CNEWA delegation visited with the displaced Christians and other refugees in Erbil and Dohuk. What was it like?
So, we toured a number of camps. There would be thousands of these people in the refugee camps, which are actually rather secure and safe and where the local Christians have opened up schools, medical dispensaries and pharmacies. The people there will be the first to say that they are well taken care of — so, thanks be to God — because of a lot of international Christian support, and, yes, some support from the Kurdistan government and the Iraqi government.
At least they have these secure makeshift caravans, which we would call “trailers,” to live in. And the camp seems to be secure, and their needs and health and food are taken care of, as well as the education of their children. So the charity that has been shown them is remarkable.
Read the full interview.
20 April 2016
Petro Moysiak is ordained at the Church of the Transfiguration in Kolomiya, Ukraine. Pope Francis has called for Europe to take up a special collection this Sunday to support the people of Ukraine, who have endured war and hardship while trying to keep the faith alive. Read about young men who are Answering the Call to the priesthood in the November 2011 edition of ONE.
(photo: Petro Didula)
20 April 2016
Syrian refugee children stand outside their school in Zahle, Lebanon, in the country’s Bekaa Valley on 12 April. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
Russia reportedly moving artillery to northern Syria (The Wall Street Journal) Russia has been moving artillery units to areas of northern Syria where Assad government forces have been massing, raising U.S. concern that the two allies may be preparing for a return to full-scale fighting after a nearly two-month cease-fire with the main opposition, U.S. officials say...
Education, trauma counseling key to helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon (CNS) The 1.06 million Syrians who remain in neighboring Lebanon face continuing struggles with war trauma, dwindling funds, and a very uncertain and often dangerous future. “They have internalized the violence and loss in the conflict in Syria. Perhaps they saw loved ones killed, their houses destroyed in front of their eyes, or even being uprooted from their country has caused trauma,” Monette Kraitem, a Lebanese psychologist working the Catholic charitable agency Caritas, told Catholic News Service...
Pope issues appeal for Ukraine during weekly audience (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis during his weekly General Audience on Wednesday again appealed for Ukraine, reminding those gathered in St Peter’s Square that for a long time the country’s population has been suffering the consequences of armed conflict, forgotten, he said, by many...
Israel to build new Gaza barrier within two years (The Times of Israel) A new barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israeli communities will be completed within the next two years, the IDF announced on Tuesday. The barrier, which was first proposed following 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, is designed to include both above ground and underground protections against infiltrations from the coastal enclave...
Why the “frozen” conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has gotten hot (The Los Angeles Times) For more than two decades, a little-noticed conflict in a remote, landlocked sliver of the former Soviet Union has resembled a chronic disease: Every time it appeared to be dormant, a relapse snapped it back to life...
19 April 2016
Msgr. Thomas J. McMahon, left, served simultaneously as the first head of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and secretary general of CNEWA. In the image above, he is visiting a refugee camp in Gaza. (photo: CNEWA archives)
One figure who had a great impact on CNEWA — and who played a critical role in our growth and evolution — was Monsignor Thomas J. McMahon. As our online history notes:
From 1943 to 1955, Monsignor Thomas J. McMahon, National Secretary of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, directed the Association through a period that witnessed the horrors of World War II, the division of Europe, the creation of the State of Israel and the ensuing Palestinian refugee crisis.
...A priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. McMahon was appointed assistant national secretary to Msgr. Bryan McEntegart in June 1943. In August 1943, Msgr. McEntegart was selected as Bishop of Ogdensburg, N.Y., and McMahon succeeded him as national secretary.
Five turbulent years later, one act by the United Nations on 29 November 1947 would have a significant impact on Catholic Near East Welfare Association and its erstwhile national secretary — the partition of Palestine.
After this partition, which created the State of Israel, McMahon traveled to the Holy Land under the instructions of Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches. The monsignor intended to study the situation created by the establishment of Israel and the subsequent Arab rejection of the partition. Refugees swarmed the new state’s neighbors and Pope Pius XII was anxious about this new group of exiles. Palestine was the Holy Land, the “hometown” of Christianity. The pontiff was concerned about the status of the holy places; Muslim caliphs had brokered a delicate balance of power among the rival Christian groups in the Middle Ages. Would this change? Also, many of these new refugees were Christian Arabs. What would happen to the indigenous Christian communities in the land of Jesus’ birth?
Recommendations for action were sought by the Holy See — Rome valued the insight and judgment of McMahon, and his analysis and opinions were accepted and followed.
One of McMahon’s recommendations was to create a pontifical organization that would coordinate the church’s diverse efforts in the region on behalf of the Palestinian refugees.
In April 1949, the Holy See announced the creation of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. Msgr. Thomas McMahon was named its president while retaining the position of national secretary of the Association, hence the development of the unique “sister” relationship between Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the Pontifical Mission. To date, the secretary general of the Association has always been the president of the Pontifical Mission as well.
A man of great compassion and vision, Msgr. McMahon was deeply moved by the suffering of all people. He once noted: “Misery did not discriminate among its victims in Palestine. Neither does the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.”
When Msgr. McMahon died in 1956, at the young age of 47, a cardinal who knew him wrote, “He literally was on fire for the cause of Christ.”
In CNEWA’s ongoing mission to serve the poorest and most vulnerable, Msgr. McMahon’s flame continues to burn.
19 April 2016
A man stands in front his damaged house after shelling last month in the Ukrainian town of Makeevka. (photo: CNS/Alexander Ermochenko, EPA)
Pope Francis is calling for a special collection in Europe for Ukraine:
Pope Francis’ pleas for humanitarian aid for Ukraine is bringing needed attention to a forgotten war, said Ukrainian Catholic leaders.
The 2-year-old war has caused thousands of deaths and forced more than 1 million people to seek refuge abroad, the pope said.
After Mass on 3 April, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis asked that Catholic parishes throughout Europe take up a special collection 24 April as a sign of closeness and solidarity with people suffering because of the war in Eastern Ukraine.
He prayed that the collection also “could help, without further delay, promote peace and respect for the law in that harshly tried land.”
Ukrainian Bishop Borys Gudziak of Paris, head of external church relations for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said the three things needed most are “to pray for peace and justice in Ukraine, to stay informed regarding the true situation in this ancient European land and to show your solidarity.”
In a statement sent to the media on 14 April, Bishop Gudziak said that after two years of war, there are “1.7 million internally displaced people and a million refugees in neighboring countries. Half a million do not have basic food and hundreds of thousands do not have access to safe drinking water.”
In March 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine, and about a month later, fighting began along Ukraine’s eastern border. Russian-speaking separatists with support from the Russian government and its troops have been battling Ukrainian forces.
Jesuit Father David Nazar, rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute and former superior of the Jesuits in Ukraine, said 13 April, “There is a great human need that’s been lost in the media,” which is no longer covering the war.
Read more about the crisis in Ukraine here. In the Spring edition of ONE, discover how the only Catholic university in Ukraine is making a powerful difference in the country.
And to support CNEWA’s efforts to help Ukraine, please visit this giving page.
19 April 2016
Syrian refugees Ramy and Suhila and their children, Khodus, Rashid and Abdul Mejid, relax in Rome on 18 April. The family were among 12 Syrian refugees Pope Francis brought to Rome with him from a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Syrian refugees thank pope for safety (CNS) After less than 48 hours in Rome, “dream” is the word used most often by the six Syrian adults Pope Francis brought back to Italy with him from a refugee camp in Greece. By 18 April, the couples — who asked to be identified by only their first names, Hasan and Nour, Ramy and Suhila, Osama and Wafa — and their six children had spent more than three hours doing paperwork with Italian immigration officials and had enrolled in Italian language classes...
UN agency praises pope’s solidarity with refugees (Vatican Radio) The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed the solidarity of Pope Francis with the world’s refugees and migrants when he visited them in the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, and offered a home to three Syrian families bringing them along with him to Rome...
U.S. pledges more troops to Iraq (U.S. News & World Report) America’s drumbeat back to war in Iraq grew stronger Monday, with the announcement the White House has approved raising the number of U.S. troops deployed there to more than 4,000. The U.S. will also deploy attack helicopters, rocket-powered artillery and hundreds of millions of dollars more to support Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State group...
Demonstration remembers kidnapped bishops (Fides) Today, Tuesday, 19 April, militants of associations and Lebanese organizations find themselves in the municipal office of Sin el Fil, an eastern suburb of the Lebanese capital, to remember the story of the two Metropolitan Bishops of Aleppo — Syro Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Boulos Yazigi — of whom we have had no certain news since their kidnapping, which occurred on 22 April 2013...
Israel still struggling to bring back tourists after 2014 war (The Globes) The average hotel occupancy rate in March was 58 percent, according to a publication by the Israel Hotel Association. The Hotel Association compared the March 2016 figures with those from March 2015 and March 2014, four months before the beginning of the incoming tourism crisis caused by Operation Protective Edge. The figures show that while the crisis has eased slightly, in comparison with 2015, there are still Israeli cities in which hotel occupancy is 50 percent or less, including Jerusalem, Tiberias, Netanya, and Nazareth...