25 April 2016
CNEWA’s President Msgr. John Kozar visits with two Iraqis during his trip to Kurdistan earlier this month. Last weekend, he shared some of his experiences from that trip with clergy in the
Diocese of Providence. (photo: CNEWA)
Msgr. John E. Kozar, President of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) was invited to be the keynote speaker at a Convocation and Priests’ Study Day for the priests of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, on 18 April 2016. I was fortunate to accompany him on this short trip.
The topic of the Study Day was the current situation of Christians in the Middle East. With over 150 priests, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and two other bishops in attendance, Msgr. Kozar spoke about his recent trip to Erbil and Iraqi Kurdistan. Accompanied by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, monsignor led a pastoral visit to the many different projects that CNEWA supports for the over 120,000 Christians who fled the onslaught of ISIS in August 2104.
It was Msgr. Kozar’s second trip to Erbil. He spoke of the tremendous needs of the displaced people in the region. He told the assembled priests of how CNEWA works with the local church to build up the societal and human infrastructure of the camps where the displaced Iraqis are housed. Although there have been noticeable improvements in their lives — many no longer live in tents and have educational and health care opportunities available — the longer they are away from the homes, the greater is their despair.
Monsignor reported on one the more creative projects which CNEWA supports: namely, two mobile clinics which can bring medical care to those who are at a distance from Erbil and unable to access the more permanent clinics which have been set up. He also spoke warmly of a visit to a village where he was welcomed by Catholic and Orthodox Christians as well as Yazidis.
The presentation was followed by a lively exchange of questions and comments. Many of the participants said that they found the Study Day very helpful in informing them about a critical topic that is important to their ministries.
25 April 2016
Orthodox Christians marked Palm Sunday yesterday. In this picture, a boy takes a break from the Palm Sunday procession in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 24 April.
(photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
25 April 2016
In the video above, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, reflects on the impact the ceaseless cycle of wars is having on people in the Middle East. (video: Rome Reports)
Suicide bombing near Muslim shrine in Syrian capital (CBS News) A suicide bombing near a Shiite Muslim shrine outside Syria’s capital city left at least 15 people dead and dozens more wounded Monday, Syrian officials told CBS News. Syrian State television said only that an explosion in Sayyida Zeinab, south of Damascus, had “killed and wounded some people,” without providing further information, but sources at the Ministry of Health told CBS News “at least 15 people were killed and more than 80 were admitted to nearby hospitals for immediate treatment in the aftermath of the bombing...”
Predominantly Christian city bombed by Islamist rebels (Fides) Islamist militias linked to Al Qaeda Jabhat al Nusra Front group launched an attack with mortars on the Syrian city of Sqelbiya, a predominantly Christian city, in the central province of Hama on Sunday, 24 April, killing at least four civilians...
Unemployment in Gaza reaches 60 percent (Middle East Monitor) Sixty per cent of the population of Gaza is unemployed, while 70 per cent live in poverty, QudsNet reported yesterday. Secretary-General of the General Federation of Palestine’s Trades Unions in Gaza (GFPTU), Sami Al-Amassi, said: “Palestinian workers ... live in accumulated suffering caused by the Israeli occupation which tightens the siege, closes crossings and bans the entry of raw materials...”
Copts celebrate Palm Sunday (Egypt Independent) Hundreds of Coptic Christians flocked to the churches of New Valley governorate on Sunday to celebrate Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, which will culminate in a week’s time with Easter Sunday. Many gathered in the Church of the Virgin Mary in Khariga Oasis, the largest church in the governorate, for a special mass marking the high day in the liturgical calendar...
Explaining the Mass to young people in India (Fides) The Jubilee of the 400th anniversary of the founding of St. Andrew’s Church in Bandra, in Mumbai, was the occasion for a special celebration dedicated to the young: it was a Holy Mass animated with theatrical dramatizations and music, as explained by Father Caesar D’Mello, the pastor of St. Andrew’s church. Furthermore, “the different moments of the Mass were explained in their deeper meaning, involving those present...”
22 April 2016
One of Cairo’s Zabbaleen hauls garbage in a homemade sack. Many of the city’s poorest residents make a meager living sorting and selling trash. Learn more about life in Egypt in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
22 April 2016
In this photo from 2014, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople leads the Divine Liturgy at the Church of St. George in Istanbul, Turkey. (photo: Filippo Monteforte/Getty Images)
The Turkish State opens a case to recover the lands returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in recent years (Fides) Turkey has opened a case against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, to cancel the legal acts with which some land were returned to the Orthodox Patriarchal See...
The Patriarchs of Antioch remember the two Bishops kidnapped: “We do not have the support of the ‘giants.’ Our only hope is in the Lord” (Fides) “We shall continue to live in this East, ringing our bells, building our churches, and lifting up our Crosses...”
Karabakh: The Anguish of Conflict Lingers for Civilians (EurasiaNet) Now that the fighting has subsided in the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, civilians on the Armenian side are struggling to restore a sense of normalcy...
Babushkas of Chernobyl (Aljazeera) The defiant women who returned to the radioactive exclusion zone soon after the disaster share their tales of survival...
Cong. for Oriental Churches shows support for Pope’s Ukraine appeal (Vatican Radio) The Congregation for the Oriental Churches on Friday released a press statement, expressing support for the extraordinary collection to take place this Sunday in churches across Europe for the people suffering from the war in Ukraine...
Author Jurgen Todenhofer, who lived with IS for 10 days (BBC) Extremists belonging to so-called Islamic State have lost a number of towns and cities recently, including Palmyra. But does that mean that they are being beaten?...
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.