6 August 2018
Displaced Iraqi Christians are struggling to rebuild, exactly four years after ISIS first swept through their country. This video, from last fall, shows some of what they are facing as they return home. (video: Raed Rafei/CNEWA)
Exactly four years ago — 6 August 2014 — ISIS began its assault on the Nineveh Plain, and thousands of Iraqi Christians began to run for their lives.
Al Jazeera takes note:
Displaced by the expansion of Islamic State (ISIS) — which rapidly overran vast territories in Iraq, eventually seizing one-third of the country in 2014—Christian families left their homes in the ancient Assyrian towns of Nineveh province to resettle in Erbil and the capital, Baghdad.
Samir Petrus, 50, who left Hamdaniya [also known as Qaraqosh], a district located on the outskirts of Mosul, where the majority of the Iraqi Christian community are Chaldo-Assyrians, says he will never return to Nineveh.
“There’s nothing for me to go back to. No jobs, no home, let alone safety and security,” says Petrus, who now lives at an IDP camp in Baghdad. “I’m here now with my girls and I have to look ahead.”
ISIS targeted minorities of the Nineveh plains when it stormed northern Iraq, taking over Mosul in 2014. Although other communities in Mosul hope to go home again, Christian and Yazidi minorities say they’ve endured enough persecution and refuse to return, even if ISIS has been defeated.
CNEWA has been on the ground and on the front lines of helping displaced Iraqi Christians since Day One — and we have been chronicling their story in our magazine, along with the story of the long road back to a life resembling normal. Last fall, in the pages of ONE magazine we described the Hard Choices many are facing:
A recent comprehensive survey carried out by church authorities indicates that of the 6,826 housing units in Qaraqosh, about a third are severely damaged or burned, with some two-thirds sustaining partial damage. Almost 100 homes are completely destroyed and beyond repair.
Despite some shy rebuilding efforts by churches and homeowners, the estimated $70 million needed for the overall reconstruction of Qaraqosh still looms large. According to Father Jahola, several organizations have pledged to help with large finances, but substantial aid has not materialized yet.
The condition of Qaraqosh is not very different from that of most Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, which typically report damage to 30 to 40 percent of structures — houses, schools, public institutions, churches, monasteries and hospitals alike.
But some towns, such as Batnaya, have been rendered completely uninhabitable, reporting 85 percent of buildings demolished under heavy aerial bombardment.
The total cost for the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plain, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars — if not billions — will require a significant mobilization of aid by foreign governments and international charities.
This past spring, the new superior general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Sister Clara Nancy, wrote to us a Letter from Iraq, describing how the people — and the sisters serving them — are surviving on a resolute mixture of fortitude and faith:
We want and need to be with our people. We want to return with them to serve them.
And so we visit families in their homes. We lead youth groups and offer activities and lectures to help them understand themselves and their faith, sharing Bible stories when possible and catechesis for children. We understand these activities are modest — and that they are unable to heal them as a whole — but our efforts may be a balm to sooth their pain.
Life is so hectic in our area; our challenges look overwhelming. Therefore, we encourage people to go beyond their difficulties, and place them in a different context. We try to help them look into things through the eyes of faith. It is easy for people to feel depressed and live as passive victims. So, our aim is to help them live their faith as people who trust God and his providence. We are not the only ones who have lived this reality: The Bible tells us about those who had very similar experiences and yet they knew how to overcome their situation with hearts full of faith in the Lord.
It is hard to know what the future holds for our community. Displacement and immigration left young women unable to form a clear vision about their future. So, fostering vocations has been difficult when life is so unsettled. However, there are a few girls who are considering joining with us in serving the Lord as sisters. We are thinking of organizing a program for them to prepare them and introduce them to religious life.
We sisters have our own struggles, of course. We have asked different speakers to help us cope with the situation, spiritually and psychologically. We are grateful to all those who have risked their lives and have come to show solidarity and offer their knowledge.
Deep down, we believe our main help is the Risen Lord around whom we gather in every Eucharist. This unites us with the Christ and enables us to endure. Sharing with one another our difficulties gives us the opportunity to reflect and support one another. We have lost much, but we still have each other. And that is of great help.
Read more of Sister Clara’s letter here.
This day, in particular, please keep all our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East in your prayers. Their struggle is far from over — and they need your help, now more than ever. CNEWA continues to accompany them, support them, encourage them and stand with them during this difficult time. We invite you to stand with us—and with them. If you’d like to do more for those trying to rebuild in Iraq, visit this page to learn how you can help.
6 August 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians ISIS Dominican Sisters
As summer temperatures climb, young people in Israel play in a water fountain on 3 August near the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Abir Sultan, EPA)
6 August 2018
A panel of clergy and lay people announced the launch of India's SAFBIN project, designed to improve food security in Asia. (photo: Vatican News)
Damascus creates body to repatriate Syrian refugees (AFP) Syria’s government is to set up a coordination committee to repatriate millions of its nationals who fled the country’s seven-year conflict, state media has said. The cabinet Sunday “agreed to create a coordination body for the return of those displaced abroad to their cities and villages,” state news agency SANA reported…
Over 400 people interrogated in connection with murder of Coptic bishop (Fides) Over 400 people were interrogated by the Egyptian judicial authorities of the Wadi Natrun region, as part of the investigation into the murder of Coptic Orthodox bishop Epiphanius, abbot of Saint Macarius monastery, who was killed on Sunday 29 July. In addition to the monks, police detectives will also interrogate workers, farmers and people who habitually frequented the monastery. But so far — specify the official sources of the Coptic Orthodox Church, consulted by Agenzia Fides — no person at the moment is believed to be responsible for the heinous murder of Anba Epiphanios…
Caritas India launches agricultural project to improve food security (Vatican News) Caritas India, the social arm of the Catholic Church in India has launched an agricultural project to help improve the food and nutritional security of small farmers across South Asia. Called the Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network or SAFBIN, the initiative is being backed by Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland…
Canadians open their arms to refugees (Vatican News) n the first half of 2018, nearly 26,000 migrants sought asylum in Canada. Nearly 11,000 of these were illegal or “irregular” border crossers, of which a vast majority entered Canada through Quebec. Elana Wright, Advocacy and Research Officer of Development and Peace at Caritas Canada, spoke to Vatican News’ Timothée Dhellammes about Canadians’ openness to welcoming asylum seekers…
UN scales up humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia (UN.org) To address the urgent needs of more than a million displaced by inter-communal violence in southwestern Ethiopia over the past four months, UN humanitarian agencies and their partners are ramping up their efforts, providing among other things shelter, household items, water and sanitation, and food to the most vulnerable…
3 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Refugees
An Iraqi father and his children are shown at the Saint Anthony Community Health Centre in Lebanon, supported by CNEWA. (photo: Carl Hétu)
CNEWA Canada has just launched a campaign to help Middle East Christians, and national director Carl Hétu this week offered some thoughts on the current situation on the blog for the Archdiocese of Toronto. An excerpt is below.
What is the current situation for Christians in the Middle East?
Daily life for Christians in the Middle East has been difficult. Things took a turn for the worse in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq by the U.S., Great Britain and their allies. Iraq spiraled into internal tribal conflict and anarchy. Christians were stuck in the middle — often being victims of threats, kidnapping, torture and assassination. As a result, approximately 1.2 million Christians were forced to leave the country since 2003. Some 250,000 Christians remain in Iraq today. The unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict has also caused economic and political hardships. Only 55,000 and 1,100 Christians remain in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. In Syria, the civil war has practically destroyed the country. Christians have certainly not been spared from the violence. The Christian population has gone down to 1 million from 2 million since 2011. More are fleeing. In Egypt, attacks on Christians are common. We believe that some 400,000 have left the country in the last seven years. Christians live in greater security in Jordan and Israel; but there has been a recent rise in internal tensions.
How does your most recent trip to Lebanon in April compare to your last visit to the region?
The Lebanese people seem anxious, tired and increasingly frustrated. The population of Lebanon is 4 million. There are more than 1.3 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, plus 500,000 Palestinian refugees, in the country. The impact on the local economy and social services is overwhelming. Local aid organizations are exhausted and lacking in resources to support refugees but also there is an increasing number of Lebanese people who are getting poorer, losing their jobs and in need of support. It’s a very alarming and potentially volatile situation.
Visit this link to learn more — and to discover what’s being done and how you can help.
3 August 2018
Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians CNEWA Canada Persecution
In this image from June, people walk toward the last Syrian government checkpoint while waiting for permission to leave the besieged section of Damascus. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon has called for more refugees to return to their homeland. (photo: CNS/Omar Sanadiki, Reuters)
Syrian ambassador calls for refugees to return (The National) Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon has called for Syrian refugees to return home and for the countries hosting them to ease the transition. Ali Abdul Karim told Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during a meeting on Thursday that certain agreements were being followed up on to help Syrian refugees return, according to a statement released by the minister’s office…
Netanyahu cancels trip abroad as possible Hamas-Israel cease fire deal emerges (The Los Angeles Times) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday abruptly canceled an official visit to Central and South America as a possible agreement to halt the violence and ease tensions along its border with the Gaza Strip appeared to be emerging. In a statement, an Israeli government official said the trip, during which Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with the presidents of Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and Honduras, was being canceled “due to the situation in the south…”
Bishops’ event in India focuses on divisive politics (UCANews.com) A Catholic Church-organized program in New Delhi has called on Indian politicians to cease being divisive and using religion as a way of attracting votes. Prominent opposition leader Mamta Banerjee was among several speakers voicing concerns over the divisions in Indian society during an assembly organized by the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference on 31 July…
Report: Syrian group recruiting children from camps (Human Rights Watch) The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest member of the Syrian Democratic Forces military alliance in northeast Syria, has been recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice, Human Rights Watch said today…
Has peace finally arrived for Ethiopia and Eritrea? (The New Yorker) The timing of the peace deal was sudden: within a matter of weeks, and after two decades of hostility, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed an agreement, on 9 July to restore diplomatic relations, reopen embassies in Addis Ababa and Asmara, and resume flights between the two countries. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and the Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki, both said they hoped for an end to a state of war that has dragged on between the two nations since Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia, after a thirty-year struggle, in 1993. More than 80,000 people have died in the conflict, and the United Nations has imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, citing its border disputes with neighboring countries…
2 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Israel
In 1983, Pope John Paul II met in prison with Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot and wounded the pontiff in St. Peter's Square two years earlier. The pope publicly forgave him. (photo: CNS)
This year on Sunday 5 August—and on the first Sunday of August every year—many people around the world observe International Forgiveness Day. Although the observance is not connected with any specific religion, organizers note:
”Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness of one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and divine forgiveness.”
Since much of CNEWA’s world is home to the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—it’s worth considering how each of these faiths treats the notion of forgiveness.
The three religions all differentiate between God’s forgiveness of humans and human beings forgiving each other. Each of the three monotheistic faiths strongly emphasizes that God is merciful and ready to forgive.
In Judaism, this idea recurs repeatedly. Almost like an antiphon, the phrase “tender and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent” (Joel 2:13) is applied again and again to God in the Hebrew Bible. The entire book of the Prophet Jonah is dedicated to God’s mercy.
In Christianity, God’s mercy and forgiveness are a constant theme of the preaching of Jesus. In the New Testament, God is presented as a loving Father who is always ready to forgive. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ connects the forgiveness of God with our own readiness to forgive: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
In Islam one finds the Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God. They are God’s titles and characteristics. The first two names of God for Muslims are: rahmani and rahim, “the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.” For Muslims these are the two primary and most important characteristics of God. Of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, all of them except one (Chapter 9, al-Tawba) begins “In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.”
Of course, almost all religions have a form of the “Golden Rule:” do unto others as you would have them to unto you. Nevertheless, forgiveness of those who harm and offend us is treated slightly differently in the three monotheistic traditions. Part of this may be due to the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures and the Qur’an contain legal material and are concerned in some cases with retributive justice. In these scriptures, the action of the offender is important: the offender must repent and ask for forgiveness. The Qur’an 42:41 is, however, instructive here. After reiterating the Law of Talion (an eye for an eye, etc.), it adds “but whoever forgives and brings about reconciliation, his reward is with God.”
But in Christian teaching, the New Testament is unique in its call for “gratuitous forgiveness.” In Matthew’s Gospel (6:14-15) Jesus connects his followers’ willingness to forgive with God’s willingness. When in Matthew 18 Peter askes Jesus how often he must forgive, Jesus responds “seventy times seven” or indefinitely. .” In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus demands something unique in the monotheist faiths: love of one’s enemy. Jesus challenges his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In Luke 6:27-35 he expands the challenge and says “love your enemies and do good, lend without hope of return.” While dying on the cross Jesus asks God to forgive his executioners, although they clearly have not repented of what they are doing.
In our world today, mercy and forgiveness are needed perhaps now more than ever. There is a saying which is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian pacifist: if it is an eye for an eye, it won’t be long before the whole world is blind. Gandhi recognized that while forgiveness is very difficult and at times seemingly impossible, it is ultimately in our own self-interest too.
The world in which CNEWA works has seen more than its share of evil and violence. Genocidal attacks against Yazidis in northwestern Iraq, persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, destruction of churches, monasteries and sacred places, rape and slavery as tools of war and other atrocities are all crimes which cry to heaven. The drive towards vengeance can be very strong and very understandable.
But regardless of how strong or how understandable, vengeance must be resisted and must give way to mercy.
Wherever we work, CNEWA tries to be promote understanding, rebuilding of relationships, reconciliation and forgiveness — not only on International Forgiveness Day but every day.
In the words of a well-known commercial: it’s what we do.
2 August 2018
Tags: Christianity Islam Judaism
The Adi-Harush refugee camp shelters some 12,000 people. Learn how they are patiently waiting for a better future — and how the church is trying to give them hope — in This, Our Exile in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
2 August 2018
Men in India gathered recently to protest the draft list which has rendered some four million people without citizenship in northern India. (photo: Vatican News/AFP)
Israel claims Syrian civil war is effectively over (CNBC) Israel claimed Syria’s long-running civil war had effectively come to an end Thursday and predicted the Golan Heights frontier between the two countries would be much quieter over the coming months. Syrian President Bashar Assad has sought to restore central rule in several southwestern areas of the country in recent weeks, with a particular focus on reclaiming Golan Heights — an area of strategic and political significance for both Damascus and Jerusalem…
Israel halts fuel supplies to Gaza (AP) Despite renewed cease-fire efforts, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that, starting Thursday, he is halting shipments of fuel and natural gas to Gaza in response to incendiary balloons that have targeted southern Israel. Israel also suspended fuel shipments to Gaza temporarily in July for similar reasons…
India renders four million people without citizenship (Vatican News) In a bid to identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the Indian government released a draft list on Monday which has rendered about four million people without citizenship in the north-eastern state of Assam. Hundreds of thousands of people fled to India from Muslim-majority Bangladesh during its 1971 war of independence, settling down mostly in Assam and West Bengal…
Bishop Olmsted named apostolic administrator of Byzantine eparchy (CNS) Latin-rite Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has been appointed apostolic administrator of a Byzantine Ruthenian eparchy also based in Phoenix, the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy. The appointment by Pope Francis was announced on 1 August in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Vatican nuncio to the United States…
Pope revises catechism to say death penalty ’inadmissible’ (CNS) Building on the development of Catholic Church teaching against capital punishment, Pope Francis has ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and to commit the church to working toward its abolition worldwide…
1 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank
CNEWA's president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, visits the Home of Faith in Kerala, India, which cares for children with disabilities. Read Msgr. Kozar’s reflections on how CNEWA evangelizes in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
1 August 2018
In the video above, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien expresses his concern over a new law he says limits the rights of non Jews. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Cardinal expresses concerns over new law that grants exclusive rights to Jews in Israel (Rome Reports) Israel has passed a law that affords exclusive rights to Jewish people and removes Arabic as an official language. There are 1.8 million Arabs in Israel, which account for 20% of the total population. Israel’s new law has led to further fears of discrimination towards Arab minorities, with many Israeli neighborhoods and towns already effectively being segregated making it tough for an Arab to move in. According to Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, this new law has taken away full equality for non Jews…
Syria says road to Jordan crossing is ready (Reuters) The road to Syria’s border crossing with Jordan, closed by conflict in 2011, is ready for use and Damascus is looking at prospects of reopening it after recovering the border from rebels, the Syrian transport minister said…
Palestinian muftis bar participation in Jerusalem elections (Haaretz) The council of Palestinian muftis has issued a religious ruling barring Muslim residents of Jerusalem from participating in the city’s municipal elections this fall, either by running for office or by voting. In a statement issued on Monday, the council accused Israel of never ceasing its attempts to subdue the city’s Palestinian residents in various ways ever since it gained control of East Jerusalem in 1967…
Starvation deaths haunt India (UCANews.com) Increasing starvation deaths in India show the failure of state and federal governments to implement welfare measures and enforce a law that ensures the right to food, say church leaders and activists. The recent deaths of three children, all aged below nine, in New Delhi have brought to the fore the plight of nearly 191 million Indians who go to sleep on empty stomachs despite economic growth…
Indian tourism department to launch microsite on Christianity (Times of India) State tourism department, in a couple of weeks, will launch a microsite on Christianity in Kerala to lure more international travelers, especially religious scholars, historians and pilgrims…
Tags: Syria India Jerusalem