13 August 2014
Children flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sinjar, Iraq, on 10 August.
(photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
Faced with the unrelenting reports about the sufferings of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, even Christians who are friendly toward Muslims can be perplexed and ask, “Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against these atrocities?” The answer is: Muslims have been speaking out in the strongest terms, condemning the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS (or, as it is increasingly called, IS) and others in the name of Islam.
So, why do we not hear more of this?
The first reason is because Islam is not a structurally centralized religion. Unlike, for example, Catholicism, there is no one person or institution that can speak with authority for all Sunnis or even all Shiites — to say nothing of speaking for all Muslims around the world.
The second reason is that there is a huge number of newspapers in Muslim countries throughout the world. Many, if not most, of these newspapers appear in languages unfamiliar to people in the West. Sometimes, it is not a question of Muslims speaking out, but of others just not hearing. Often, the “not hearing” happens because people do not have access to sources or just do not speak the same language. But the voices are out there. And an important media monitoring group has turned up the volume, to make sure more hear them.
MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), which could never be accused of being apologetic to Islam or Muslims, has just published a “Special Dispatch,” in which it gives a platform to several significant editorials written by Muslims in important Middle Eastern newspapers — condemning the atrocities taking place in Syria and Iraq in no uncertain terms.
In a scathing July 24, 2014 editorial on the issue, the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated that the targeting in Mosul of Christians, who have been part of the history and culture of Iraq for centuries, is the most extensive ethnic cleansing of modern times, and a black mark upon the reputation of Islam and the Muslims. The paper went on to call on moderate Muslims to condemn these terrible actions of the “cancerous” and “terrorist” IS, lest they become complicit in a crime against humanity. It also urged them to denounce extremist fatwas, such as the one by Sudanese cleric Muhammad Al-Jazouli, who cited a hadith permitting the killing of “infidel” men, women and children. The paper mentioned that this fatwa was widely published by MEMRI (view this clip on MEMRI TV here). It should be noted that, although the newspaper called this hadith “false” and “unreliable,” it actually appears in the Abu Dawud collection and is considered authentic.
Egyptian sociologist and human rights activist Sa’d Al-Din Ibrahim wrote in his weekly column for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm that the IS’s barbaric, racist and murderous treatment of Christians, unprecedented in the history of the Arab East, is reminiscent of the Nazis and Tatars, and does great harm to Islam. He called upon the Arab League to condemn the IS’s actions.
Columnist Ahmad Al-Sarraf used a scathingly sarcastic tone to express his outrage. In his column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, he told the Christians to leave the Arab lands, because the Arabs no longer have any use for progress, civilization, tolerance or coexistence, but only for backwardness, fanaticism and violence.
Read more at the MEMRI link. There are many more critical voices out there in the Arab world. They deserve to be heard.
13 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Violence against Christians Muslim Islam
A man and three children flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, on 10 August. (photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
The website Aleteia has posted a comprehensive primer on the Islamic State, featuring important insight and context from — among others — CNEWA’s Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D:
ISIS or ISIL? Islamic State or Caliphate?
The bunch that’s wreaking havoc across parts of Syria and Iraq has not only caused death and destruction, they’ve caused a lot of confusion as well.
In an attempt to clear up some of that, Aleteia reached out to members of its Board of Experts and others in order to compile this primer on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, to use one of its several names. We are grateful for the assistance of Father Elias D. Mallon, external Affairs Officer of the New York-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association; Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN, and William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for The Soul of The West.
1. What or who is ISIS? How did it come to be?
ISIS consists of Sunni extremists, recruited from all over the Arab-speaking world and perhaps beyond. Its origins are connected with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a notorious terrorist born in Jordan.
“He ultimately went to Afghanistan as a jihadi in the late 1980’s,” Father Mallon says. “He founded the Organization for Tawhid (i.e. proclaiming the unity of God) and Jihad and ultimately in 2004 brought his organization under the leadership of al-Qaeda, where he declared total war on Shi’ites.”
“The Islamic State is the group that during the Iraq War was often referred to as ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq,’ ” says an info sheet from the Archdiocese of Toronto. “The group claims it is an independent state with claims to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War. … The group has targeted military and governments of Iraq and Syria, but has also claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. According to a study compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, the Islamic State has plans to seize power and turn the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state.”
Al-Zarqawi was killed by an American bomb in 2006.
“It appears that ISIS is an offshoot or development of al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq,” says Father Mallon. “However, al-Qaeda has repudiated ISIS for being too indiscriminately violent and, hence, risking the loss of popular support.”
“As an offshoot from al-Qaeda, ISIS follows the theology of the Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam, which began in eastern Arabia in the 1740’s,” says Father Pacwa. “Their passion is the oneness of God and the elimination of all shirk, or association of anyone or anything with God. The early Wahabis were disgusted by the honors shown to the Prophet Muhammad at his tomb in Medina, so they completely destroyed it. … Their catechesis in Arabia emphasized the absolute oneness of God and summoned all Muslims to join them in enforcing this doctrine, or die.”
ISIS is now led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself “Caliph” on June 29. If you find ISIS’s constant name changes disconcerting, you’ll feel the same way about Al-Baghdadi. Originally called Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarra’i, al-Baghdadi took his nom de guerre after the name of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr.
“Recently he has started calling himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al Husseini al-Qurayshi, the last two names being attempts to link his lineage with that of the Prophet and his tribe the Quraysh,” Father Mallon says. “If he is really descended from the Prophet, one would think that it would have been obvious in his name all along. Most recently, he is using The Commander of the Faithful Caliph Ibrahim, using the traditional and oldest title of the Caliph—Commander of the Faithful.”
2. Why do they exist?
Father Mallon outlines two reasons why ISIS exists:
Ideological: to spread Islam and Islamic rule across the lands of the classical Abassid Caliphate and further even into the Iberian Peninsula. As such, ISIS shows little understanding of the very checkered history of the Caliphate. In this, ISIS tends to be a type of romantic movement but an incredibly brutal one.
Practical: Many Sunnis in Iraq (and Syria) feel disenfranchised by either the Alawite rule of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus or the Shi’ite rule of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. I think many Sunnis look upon ISIS as the only effective opposition to, especially, the regime in Baghdad. I am not sure but I suspect that the loyalty does not go much deeper.
3. What is their aim? How likely are they to be able to accomplish it?
Their aim to re-establish the Caliphate and extend Islamic religious, political and military hegemony as far as they can, says Father Mallon. “To accomplish this they are prepared to violate traditional principles of Islamic warfare.”
4. Is this a global movement?
Yes and no, says Father Mallon. “It is global in that is appeals to a broad audience of Muslims who share the romantic idea of a Caliphate in which Muslims rule over everyone. It is not a global movement in that it is probably not sustainable in a number of ways. Not the least, opposition would come from an increasing desire for democracy in many Muslim countries. Democracy is the antithesis of the historically autocratic Caliphates. In addition, Shi’ites are in principle opposed to a Sunni Caliphate ruling over them.”
He adds: “Although ISIS uses the most brutal and savage methods, it would be a serious mistake to think of it as a primitive group. It has shown itself disturbingly sophisticated in its use of mass communications and social media. There are reports of a store in Istanbul and a website on which one can purchase t-shirts with the ISIS logo as well as the head band often seen on the foreheads of ISIS combatants as well as access ISIS propaganda.
“The New York Times estimates that ISIS is the wealthiest terrorist group in the world, having access to hundreds of millions of dollars,” Father Mallon says. “Most, if not all, ISIS’s wealth comes from plundered cities, banks and individuals. It seems it has carefully avoided becoming dependent on outside sources of financing which could easily be cut off.”
Check out the Aleteia website for much more.
13 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians
Children prepare for First Communion in Qaramlesh, Iraq, on 1 August. Islamist terrorists drove these Christian families from their homes, so their 8 August ceremony never happened. Read more about the latest from Iraq. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
13 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Children Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
Volunteer Iraqi Shiite militia members near Hibhib stand guard against Islamic State militants 11 August. The Vatican called on Muslim leaders to condemn the “barbarity” and “unspeakable criminal acts” of Islamic State militants in Iraq, saying a failure to do so would jeopardize the future of interreligious dialogue. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Pope urges U.N. Secretary-General to call for international action in Iraq (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has written to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, regarding the situation in Iraq. Dated 9 August and released today, the letter condemns the violent persecutions underway in the country, and calls on the international community to act swiftly and decisively to stop the humanitarian disaster currently taking place…
Ban Ki-moon urges countries to do more to help Iraqi civilians (U.N. News Center) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged Iraqi security forces against intervening in the country’s political process where heightened tensions, coupled with the current security threat from the armed group, the Islamic State, could lead the country into even deeper crisis…
Power outages add to Aleppo’s suffering (Al Monitor) For Aleppo residents, electricity is no longer a basic requirement: Its continuous interruption has led them to gradually dispense with it. Having electricity has turned into a luxury. Many residents have even sold their electrical tools, their TV’s, washing machines and irons, among other appliances that they no longer use. As for the refrigerators, they were turned into water tanks, or even libraries, whereas microwaves became used as storage for supplies…
Israel, Palestinians pursue Gaza deal as cease-fire deadline nears (Los Angeles Times) Talks in Cairo resumed Wednesday as the three-day truce between Israel and Gaza militants was expected to expire at midnight local time, so far without an agreement. Israel’s five-member negotiating team returned from the Egyptian capital overnight following the second day of marathon discussions. They headed back out Wednesday morning for the decisive stretch of talks…
Ukraine’s Catholic leaders back military campaign (The Tablet) The head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church has urged his countrymen “not to be afraid to defend their homeland” as official military chaplains began work for the first time in the country since Communist rule and Russian forces announced a major border exercise. “For the first time in the post-[Second World] war years, people need to give their lives and shed blood for their country’s independence,” said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych. “But God’s power is able to extinguish any conflict and confrontation — and people who hope in God remain undefeated and can defend their country and state…”
12 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine United Nations
An Iraqi Christian refugee holds a 12-day-old baby in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 7 August. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
The streets of Ain Kawa, Erbil’s Christian neighborhood, are filled with Christian families, children, elderly and youth staying in the halls and backyards of the churches and in empty schools and convents. Prior to the advance of ISIS fighters in June, Ain Kawa counted some 30,000 people, mostly Christians. It has now become a refuge to around 130,000 displaced Christians from Mosul, Qaraqosh and other neighboring villages.
Ned Colt, UNHCR Public Information Officer in Erbil, said: “The constant movement of displaced people is creating an extreme situation for aid agencies which are trying to keep up. We are distributing aid, but due to people constantly moving we are sometimes distributing multiple times to the same people, and many of those people have no means of carrying things. It is difficult to get accurate figures of how many people are on the move, but we say at least 1.2 million.”
It is not just Christians fleeing the militants, but many other Iraqis — including Yazidis, Shabaks (Shiite Kurds) and moderate Muslims, considered heretics — he added.
Father Anis Hanna explained in detail how life has now changed for the different minorities who once lived in peace for centuries under the reign of Islam in Iraq and Syria. In July, ISIS declared from different mosques in Mosul that, starting on 28 July 2014, new laws and rules would be applied to everyone living in the territories under the Islamic State. They also declared that after this date, the Islamic State’s forces will purify the Nineveh Plain and control all Christian villages.
The new Islamic laws consist of the following:
It is forbidden for any citizens (men, women and children) to wear Western-style clothes; all men should wear Afghan-style clothing and all women should be veiled from their heads to their toes
All men should have a long beard and should shave their heads and mustaches
All women are not allowed to work outside their homes and they are not allowed to go outside home to the market or elsewhere if they are not accompanied by a male member of the family
All liquor stores, barber and cosmetic shops were shut down and are not allowed to operate
The local TV and radio station are not allowed to broadcast any kind of entertainment and cultural or artistic programs; only religious songs and programs are allowed
All regular courts in the city were suspended and replaced by Islamic courts
All families are being forced to give their daughters as wives to the militants against the will of the parents and the young girls.
The director of a human rights organization in Iraqi Kurdistan working in Erbil, Dhyaa Boutros, told me that the estimated number of Christian refugees is around 130,000. Some 55,000 of them have no shelter and found refuge in settlements in the open air or inside the church halls and empty schools in Erbil. The rest have managed to stay either with relatives in Erbil and Duhoc or rented small apartments in the city.
The refugees in settlements are estimated at around 10,000 families — sleeping 30 to 40 in a room in temperatures that rise up to 45 degrees Celsius [about 113 degrees Farenheit] during the day. They basically need everything. The first obvious needs are shelter, water, food, security and other basic needs to save lives. Local parishes — priests, sisters and volunteers — are doing their best to respond to need.
A newly displaced person said to Mr. Boutros: “The pope has asked the Christians to pray and be patient. I’ve been displaced twice. What prayers shall I say now?”
Ain Kawa’s St. Joseph Church has suddenly become a homeless shelter, with clothes drying in the sun and pale blue U.N.-donated blankets hanging from trees. People everywhere are confused. Kids are eating crumbly stale bread; worried mothers are wiping their children’s faces or fanning them in the heat. There are too many thin mattresses stretched on the ground, too many bags stacked up with small children crouched nearby in the small scrap of shade provided.
The confusion, the overwhelming need and the huge number of refugees makes all efforts look insufficient and inefficient.
Please visit our giving page to learn how you can help our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq.
12 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Shiite Yazidi
Yazidi demonstrators protest Islamic State militants in Hanover, Germany, on 12 August. (photo: CNS/Julian Stratenschulte, EPA)
The Vatican released a strong statement on the crisis in Iraq today:
The Vatican called on Muslim leaders to condemn the “barbarity” and “unspeakable criminal acts” of Islamic State militants in Iraq, saying a failure to do so would jeopardize the future of interreligious dialogue.
“The plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic communities that are numeric minorities in Iraq demands a clear and courageous stance on the part of religious leaders, especially Muslims, those engaged in interfaith dialogue and everyone of goodwill,” said a statement from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue released by the Vatican Aug. 12.
“All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and must denounce the invocation of religion to justify them,” the statement said. “Otherwise, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility would remain to the interreligious dialogue patiently pursued in recent years?”
The document noted that the “majority of Muslim religious and political institutions” have opposed the Islamic State’s avowed mission of restoring a caliphate, a sovereign Muslim state under Islamic law, to succeed the Ottoman Caliphate abolished after the founding of modern Turkey in 1923.
The Vatican listed some of the “shameful practices” recently committed by the “jihadists” of the Islamic State, which the U.S. government has classified as a terrorist group. Among the practices cited:
“The execrable practice of beheading, crucifixion and hanging of corpses in public places.”
“The choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of tribute or exodus.”
“The abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as war booty.”
“The imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation,” or female genital mutilation.
“No cause can justify such barbarity and certainly not a religion,” the document said.
You can read the full statement here.
12 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Vatican War Iraqi Refugees Yazidi
Iraqi Christian refugees gather in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 4 August. Witnesses claim refugees are dying in the crowded camps. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
Priest from Nineveh: ‘Christianity is finished in Iraq’ (Catholic News Agency) A priest hailing from what used to be Iraq’s largest Christian city has lamented the exodus of over 100,000 Christians from the city, many of whom are fleeing on foot with no food, money or water. “Today the story of Christianity is finished in Iraq,” said a priest who identified himself as Father Nawar…
Aleppo’s forgotten Christians (Al Monitor) Walking through the largely Christian neighborhoods of Aleppo city — Azizieh, Siryan, Sulaimaniyah and Midan — you can still see the posters of the two bishops kidnapped by Islamist militants last year hanging on shop windows, walls and even cars. The people here haven’t forgotten them; the event is still as painful and fresh as if it had happened just yesterday. The bishops’ kidnapping was a symbolic event, indicative of the larger collapse of interfaith communal relations in a country under the strain of a sectarian civil war, and marking the end of a long era of relative peace and safety for the Christians of Syria. But fear of a new kind permeates this ancient and deeply rooted community. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are very real threats that haunt the collective conscience of Syria’s Christians. The terrible fate that befell their co-religionists across the border in Mosul has driven these points home in a rather blunt and frightening way…
Gaza truce holds for second day (Al Jazeera) Talks to end a month-long war between Israel and Gaza militants are “difficult,” Palestinian delegates said on Tuesday, while an Israeli official said no progress had been made so far. As a 72-hour cease-fire held for a second day on Tuesday, Palestinian negotiators began talks with Egyptian intelligence after a meeting on Monday that lasted nine hours and the Israeli delegation returned to Cairo…
Violence in Gaza leads to youth radicalization (Der Spiegel) This war has demonstrated that there is no military solution to the Gaza problem. Every confrontation in recent years, each new round of reciprocal killings, has pushed more people to the radical fringes. There is no way around the need to improve living conditions in the Gaza Strip, and it is in Israel’s interest to recognize that imperative…
New report revisits Cairo killings last year, alleges ‘crimes against humanity’ (Washington Post) Egyptian security forces likely committed crimes against humanity by carrying out mass killings of anti-government demonstrators in Cairo last summer, and former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi — now Egypt’s president — should be investigated for his role in the atrocities, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a new report released Tuesday…
A Ukrainian murder mystery ensnares a church in former rebel stronghold (Christian Science Monitor) On a warm June morning, a dozen masked, armed men burst into the Church of the Transfiguration in the Ukrainian town of Slaviansk, demanding to know who among its 300 congregants owned the four expensive vehicles parked in front. Four men stepped forward — the church priest’s two grown sons, Ruvim and Albert Pavenko, and two deacons, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko — and were quickly hustled out of the large, Soviet-era edifice, thrust into their cars, and forced to drive away with the rebels. After 35 agonizing days of searching came evidence that all four were dead…
11 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Iraqi Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank
A displaced woman and child flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, on 10 August Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 Yezidi ethnic minorities, an Iraqi human rights minister said. (photo: CNS/ Rodi Said, Reuters)
The crisis facing Christians and other minorities in Iraq shows no sign of abating. This morning, we received an email from our regional director Michel Constantin in Beirut, who described his phone conversation with Bishop Geryes El Kass Moussa, patriarchal vicar of the Syriac Catholic Church in Iraq:
The bishop is at present in Erbil and is staying with the displaced and refugee Christians. During our phone conversation, I heard lot of shouting around him. He informed me that the Christian youth were preparing to go to the U.S. consulate in Erbil to ask for help to free their villages and receive the immediate emergency help to resist the harsh conditions they are facing.
He also informed me that the 130,000 Christians who fled their villages near Mosul have spent their fifth consecutive night under the sky without any mattresses, covers or tents. The U.N. is providing only some food rations without milk for children; all church yards are full of refugees. The local churches are providing whatever they can afford, but the needs are overwhelming.
Meantime, the response around the world has been inspiring, from generous Americans responding to our appeals through emails, newspapers, radio, blogs and social media. Many continue to ask how they can help.
Secure online donations can be made at www.cnewa.org, by phone at 800.442.6392 or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195. CNEWA is a religious charitiy registered in the state of New York, so all contributions are tax deductible.
You can read more about our current emergency appeal here.
Thank you for your generosity and your prayers!
11 August 2014
Tags: Iraq CNEWA Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
A few days ago, the Archdiocese of Toronto posted on its blog an excellent primer on the unfolding crisis in Iraq—complete with advice on how others can help. We post it below for your information and guidance.
QUESTION: What is happening in Iraq?
ANSWER: In June 2014, the Islamic State (IS), formerly called ISIS — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIL Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, had seized a large section of the country’s northern region including the city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Since the takeover, the militant group has given Christians an ultimatum: Convert, Flee, or Die. Christians were given up to July 19, 2014 deadline to choose. For those Christians who did not comply with the decree by 19 July, Isis warned that, “there is nothing to give them but the sword.”
QUESTION: How is this related to the symbol ﻥ?
ANSWER: This symbol ﻥ is the letter ’N’ in Arabic, used by the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) to identify who is a Nazarene — another word for Christian. It has been drawn on doorways and in front of houses in captured Iraqi cities, allowing militants to quickly assert where the loyalties of the inhabitants lie.
QUESTION: Who is the Islamic State?
ANSWER: The Islamic State is the group that during the Iraq War was often referred to as “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” The group claims it is an independent state with claims to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War and pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2004. The group has targeted military and governments of Iraq and Syria, but has also claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. According to a study compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, the Islamic State has plans to seize power and turn the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state.
QUESTION: How many Christians live in the Mosul region?
ANSWER: As of July 2003, about 35,000 Christians lived in the city of 2 million people. This number had dwindled to approximately 25,000 by the time of the Islamic State takeover, and only a few hundred Christian families remained in the city until recently.
QUESTION: What is the significance of Mosul?
ANSWER: Mosul is the ancient city of Niniveh, one of the holiest cities for Middle Eastern Christian groups. The city of Nineveh is mentioned in the Bible in Genesis, 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jonah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Matthew. Along with its Biblical connection, the city reportedly contains the tomb of the Old Testament prophet Jonah. The Islamic State destroyed a mosque built upon the burial site on July 24, 2014 because the militants claimed the mosque had become a place for apostasy.
QUESTION: What happened in Qaraqosh on 6-7 August?
ANSWER: The Kurdish forces abandoned their posts in Qaraqosh, Tel Eskof and Qaramlesh after a violent confrontation with IS. The largest concentration of Christians in Iraq was forced to flee for their lives. Less than 10,000 Christians (out of 100,000) remained in Qaraqosh and surrounding villages; the remaining 90,000 have left at night by foot, buses and private cars towards Erbil and other cities.
QUESTION: Where are the Christians now?
ANSWER: Most Christians in Mosul have fled 55 miles to the east, to the city of Erbil, the capital and largest city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Erbil’s governor, Nawzad Hadi, has pledged to protect fleeing Christians and other minority groups. According to the United Nations, the territory is currently home to more than 2 million refugees and internally displaced people from Iraq and Syria.
QUESTION:What about local efforts?
ANSWER: Cardinal Collins has invited prayers as well as financial support for those who wish to join in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East. In addition, more than two-thirds of our 225 Catholic churches have been involved in refugee sponsorship over the last several years. Some 820 refugees from the Middle East, many Iraqi Christians, have been sponsored by churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto, making us the largest Canadian private sponsor of refugees from the region.
QUESTION: Are Catholic groups assisting Christians in the Middle East?
ANSWER: Yes. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is a papal agency providing humanitarian and pastoral support for Christians all over the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Northeast Africa and India. They have offices in Jerusalem, Beirut, Lebanon and Amman, Jordan that work in Iraq and Syria with local dioceses and bishops and religious to provide humanitarian relief and ongoing support. Visit this link for more information. (In Canada, you can donate at this link.) The Archdiocese of Toronto will channel any funds collected through this papal agency.
For those parishes or individuals wishing to offer financial support, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) has launched an emergency aid appeal. Those wishing to contribute may do so in the following ways:
Online through the Archdiocese of Toronto website.
By phone through the Development office: 416-934-3411
Through the parish, making cheques payable to:
Name of Parish — Iraqi Christians (Parishes may use humanitarian relief envelopes and are asked to gather funds and send one parish cheque to the Development Office, made out to: Archdiocese of Toronto — Iraqi Christians)
11 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
Smoke rises in the Gaza Strip after an Israeli strike on 8 August.
(photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
The National Catholic Register this week has some very good insight into the ongoing crisis in Gaza — and the toll it is taking on the people there:
“Gaza was in a very difficult, potentially full-blown, humanitarian crisis situation six weeks before the conflict,” said Matt McGarry, country representative for Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza at Catholic Relief Services, speaking to the Register from Gaza City.
“There are 1.8 million people that live in this tiny little stretch of land without the capacity to grow enough food to support itself on a tiny, contaminated aquifer. We can’t get in or out or sail more than three miles off of the coast. And this is not a new situation, but one that has grown over quite some time,” he said.
“We and other organizations said [Gaza] is really kind of perched on the edge of a potentially humanitarian crisis, and
[it] wouldn’t take much to push it over. And with the fighting in the last month being intense, it has emphatically pushed the situation into a full-on humanitarian crisis.”
...Michael La Civita, communications director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), said that unless Gaza is lifted out of its economic misery and freedom of movement for its people restored, the region is headed for a conflict that would make the present struggle between Hamas and Israel “look like a sandlot fight.”
“You’re basically talking about a strip of land that is smaller than Manhattan, which is densely populated with almost no infrastructure,” he said.
Gaza City’s playground “Friendship Park” was a donation from CNEWA after one of its donors saw how the children were playing in trash heaps and open sewers.
“It was something that did not exist there: grass, swings, things of that nature,” he said. The playground has survived the bombings of Gaza, but not the massive use it has received from the children of Gaza, and it will need to be replaced soon.
But despite that small local improvement, La Civita stressed that the “situation has only gotten worse, not better,” under the blockade. Moreover, Hamas was not starved out, and the crushing poverty is radicalizing people to the point where Hamas — which the U.S. State Department has officially designated as a terrorist organization — appears to be losing its grip over other extremist groups that La Civita says made Hamas look moderate.
“If there is going to be a political solution, there first has to be an economic solution,” he said, noting that former Israeli President Shimon Peres made that same prediction back in 2003, when he was foreign minister, during the Oslo Accords.
“A vast majority of people affected by this are innocent men, women, children and elderly, and they are civilians,” he said. “And they have nothing to do with this.”
Although they number less than 3,000 people, he said the Christians in Gaza have been in the forefront of aiding people devastated by the violence. Catholic and non-Catholic agencies have been meeting regularly, coordinating their efforts and discussing how best to serve the people and not duplicate their services.
Said La Civita, “It’s important to understand that, in the middle of all this, the Church is a beacon of hope.”
There is much more to read and absorb. Visit this link to read it all.
Meantime, the organization EWASH (Emergency Water and Sanitation/Hygiene) in the occupied Palestinian territory offers some sobering statistics:
- 1.8 million people in Gaza have limited access to water—or no access at all, and the number is growing.
- 90% of wells, waste water treatment plants and desalination plants cannot operate due to power cuts and lack of fuel.
- 90% of water from the Coastal Aquifer is unfit for human consumption.
Check out more at this graphic at the EWASH website.
And to learn how you can help the people of Gaza, visit this page.
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Water Hunger