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Summer, 2015
Volume 41, Number 2
8 May 2015
CNEWA staff

Members of the Rifo family gather in their temporary dwelling in Sulimaniyeh, Iraqi Kurdistan,
in September 2014. (photo: Don Duncan)

Yesterday, CNEWA’s Communications Director, Michael J.L. La Civita, spoke at a conference, “The Islamic State’s Religious Cleansing and the Urgency of a Strategic Response,” hosted by the Hudson Institute in New York. He placed the present crisis in context:

Long before there was ISIS, civil war in Syria, an Arab Spring, Al Qaeda, the U.S. invasions of Iraq, civil war in Lebanon, and the Israeli-Arab conflict, Middle East Christians were on the move. Whether hiding from persecution by Jewish leaders, Roman emperors, Persian forces, Byzantine bishops, Muslim Arab invaders or Ottoman bureaucrats, the region’s Christians demonstrated agility, tenacity and the will to survive. As they moved from place to place — leaving behind their ancient centers of Antioch or Edessa — Middle East Christians preserved their identities, their cultures, their languages, their rites and their unique approaches to the one Christian faith. They reestablished their monasteries and convents, churches and schools from Beirut to Baghdad, prospering in the modern era even with the rise of ideological fanaticism and its destructive twin, intolerance. But the sixth day of August 2014 will be forever seared into the psyches of all Middle East Christians. For on that day, maniacal extremists upended the lives of more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians, forcing them to flee their homes, leaving behind everything in a matter of minutes.

The human cost of the displacement of the Middle East’s Christians is tremendous. Although they may account for only about 5 percent of the region’s population — about 15.5 million people — Christians dominate the region’s middle classes, exercising prominence in the tourism industry, commercial and skilled labor sectors, and the civil service. And as they flee the extremists rapidly taking hold in the region, moderates from other communities follow, leaving behind those who cannot leave — the poor, the uneducated, the elderly and the infirmed — and those who stand to gain by fanning the flames of hate.

...The flight of Christians from the region is arduous and painfully slow. While hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes in Iraq and Syria, most exist in a sort of limbo, hunkering down with friends and family in safer areas of Lebanon, Syria’s Valley of the Christians, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan or Iraqi Kurdistan. Some 12,000 Syrian Armenian Christians have found refuge in Armenia, but few others have acquired the coveted visas necessary to emigrate to the Americas, Europe or Oceania, where most Middle Eastern Christians now live.

Just a few months into their exile, the Rifo family was not yet able to accept the possibility of emigration.

“We all agree that this is something we don’t want to think of,” said the matriarch of the family, Ibtihaj. “We will go back to our houses, even if the house is destroyed. Returning home is the only possibility we are thinking of and we don’t want to think of any other possibility.”

Her husband Nabil had different thoughts.

“Even if we go back to our houses, we have lost our sense of security,” he said, adding that some of his non-Christian neighbors and colleagues were responsible for the looting of abandoned Christian houses. Others joined ISIS.

“Will we ever return to normal?”

There is much more. Read the full speech at this link.

8 May 2015
Antin Sloboda

Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pavlo Klimkin, receives a copy of ONE magazine from CNEWA’s Antin Sloboda during a meeting at the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottowa last week.
(photo: Vicki Karpiak)

Last week I had a chance to attend a meeting with Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa. Mr. Klimkin’s recent visit to Canada to a large extent was an expression of gratitude to the Ukrainian-Canadian community and Canadian government for taking a leadership position in supporting Ukraine in this time of crisis.

At the end of the meeting I presented him with the newest addition of CNEWA’s magazine ONE. The cover story of the magazine has an article by Mark Raczkiewycz, “Casualties of War,” about the suffering of Ukrainian people and the ways Catholic charities — including CNEWA — are providing support to the affected population on the ground.

Besides providing resources for the internally displaced and other people in need, CNEWA plays also a very important role in sharing with the English-speaking world objective information on the situation on the ground. The article by Mark Raczkiewycz is a good example of CNEWA’s multifaceted involvement.

Here’s another example. On 29 May, CNEWA Canada and the Ukrainian National Federation of Ottawa-Gatineau Branch are organizing a special event in Ottawa to raise funds for Ukraine’s internally displaced. The funds will go to CNEWA’s long-term partner Caritas Ukraine, the main humanitarian charity of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Right now Caritas Ukraine provides support to over 80,000 victims of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. If you can be in Ottawa on 29 May, please join us at this event. Tickets are still available.

If you cannot come to Ottawa, please still consider making a meaningful donation for the victims of war in Ukraine. Just visit this link for details. Thank you.

8 May 2015
Greg Kandra

Sister Ayelech chats with students during lunchtime at the Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. To read her account of her life and vocation, check out “A Letter from Ethiopia” in the Spring edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

8 May 2015
Mark Raczkiewycz

After fleeing Eastern Ukraine, this family has taken shelter in a rented house in Izum.
(photo: Ivan Chernichkin)

Journalist Mark Raczkiewycz reports on the plight of families displaced by war in Ukraine in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. Here, he explains the dread that now hangs over the people.

War will come back to the government-controlled area of Donetsk region this spring, six displaced people predicted during interviews in early March. It’s an inescapable foreboding that was constantly echoed from people who’ve lived through constant shelling, fear and stress once before.

“When Yenakieve became essentially a war zone, everything changed, nobody celebrated holidays, nobody was on the streets, it was very sad,” Ihor Horodilov, 55, told me outside the Svyatohirsk Monastery where he shares a room with six other men. “I didn’t think there would be war. I lived in peace all my life, I didn’t think it would come to this.”

The former bank security guard and others felt that Russian forces won’t stop. They had already taken Debaltseve after the third truce had taken effect in February. The city, with a pre-war population of 25,000, was leveled. It has now fewer than 7,000 residents, 5,000 of whom are estimated to be living underground in basements and improvised bunkers, according to a 6 March statement delivered by John Ging, operations director for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

When Ukrainian forces pulled back from the city and shelling ceased, Barbara Manzi, head of the UN’s OCHA office in Ukraine said that people in Debaltseve were so traumatized that they went “back to sleep in their dungeons believing that the violence would continue.”

In a sense it still does.

Two weeks before we visited Slovyansk to speak to a refugee from Donetsk City, Ukraine’s KGB-successor agency, the SBU, had detained two residents who were part of a network of informers for the separatists.

On the day we set off from Kharkiv, the vehicle of the commander of a special police battalion, Andriy Yanjolenko, exploded in the government-controlled eastern city. He and his spouse were inside the car and both were hospitalized with severe wounds.

Kharkiv and Odesa, both outside the combat zone, have been the scenes of a spate of mysterious bombings that Ukrainian authorities attribute to Russian special forces and their agents in Ukraine. The most powerful attack came on 22 February. An explosion killed four people and wounded 15 when a bomb detonated at the front of a pro-Kiev peaceful march to commemorate last year’s Euromaidan movement.

For these reasons, the atmosphere is tense. A 67-year-old pensioner from Donetsk, as well as the others, say they just want to live in peace regardless of who’s in charge.

“We’re afraid will return to Slovyansk,” said Lidia Usypenko. “If they (Russian forces) come, then let them do it peacefully without fighting.”

Read more in “Casualties of War” in the Spring edition of ONE.

8 May 2015
Greg Kandra

In the video above, a humanitarian worker in Syria decsribes the situation in his country.
(video: Rome Reports)

Caritas: pray for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital, has been on the front lines of the conflict there in recent weeks. Amnesty International this week slammed government and opposition forces for indiscriminate bombings targeting civilians, hospitals and schools...

Group with links to ISIS claims responsibility for attack in Gaza (Jerusalem Post) State ties claimed responsibility for a Friday mortar attack at a Hamas base in the Gaza Strip. According to AFP, witnesses at the scene said they heard explosions at the base, close to Khan Yunis. Information of any damage or injuries was not reported. The group, which calls itself “Supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Jerusalem,” said in an online statement that the rockets it fired were aimed at a base occupied by Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam...

Catholic charities impacted by “Francis effect” (CNS) Catholic charities around the world have no doubt about the reality of a “Francis effect” on their work. Because of the ongoing global economic crisis, most of the 164 national Catholic charities that form the Caritas Internationalis confederation report no significant increase in donations. However, the secretary-general of the Vatican-based network says Pope Francis has had a huge impact on their programs and priorities, on the number of volunteers and, especially, on their sharing...

Ethiopians held in Libya return home (BBC) A group of 35 Ethiopians who had been held in Libya have arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Officials welcomed them at the airport where they flew in from Egypt’s capital, Cairo. Ethiopia said their rescue was made possible “through co-ordinated effort” with the Egyptian government, but it is unclear who was holding them. More than 20 Ethiopians were killed in April by the Libyan branch of Islamic State, which filmed the executions...

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank

7 May 2015
Greg Kandra

Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, center, celebrates Mass on 3 May for displaced Iraqis in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNS/John E. Kozar)

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and CNEWA president John E. Kozar concluded their pastoral visit to Iraq this week, and experienced first hand the profound faith and resilience of the country’s Christians:

The head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches visited Iraq to convey Pope Francis’ blessing and concern for Church officials and the displaced living and working in difficult circumstances.

In Dohuk, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri hugged children and comforted adults who expressed only one wish: to go back home. Pope Francis’ envoy left a few pictures of the pontiff that children held proudly, with large smiles. The displaced slept up to 20 per room, with baggage and cardboard boxes marking the space for each family. Carpets on the floor and an ever-running television were the only comforts for 60 families that share a few gas stoves and even fewer toilets.

At a Mass outside of a Syriac Catholic church in Erbil on 3 May, Sandri told Iraqis who had fled from Islamic State militants that their “hearts and lives had signs of the violence, persecution and dissemination that forced many to abandon their house in the plain of Ninevah, in Mosul, in Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) and in other villages, to find a safe shelter.”

The Mass’ main celebrant was by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, but Sandri preached. In his homily, he spoke of the massacre of Assyrians by the Ottoman Empire a century ago.

“We remain speechless,” he said, “before this violence and aggression, but mostly because the human heart seems to have learned nothing from the dramas that shook the 20th century and that continue today while shedding more innocent blood with a blind and destructive blindness.

“Your pastors, the Pope and the universal Church fear a general exodus from lands that have been Christian for 2,000 years,” he said.

Before going to Erbil, Sandri spent three days in Baghdad, where he met with Iraq’s president and prime minister. Iraq without Christians would not be Iraq anymore, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told him, echoing Pope Francis’ recurring declarations about the Middle East. President Fuad Masum told the cardinal he hoped the Pope would visit as soon as the situation will allow it.

In Erbil, Sandri met with about 10 members of ROACO, a coalition of funding agencies co-ordinated by the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Among them were the heads of French and German agencies as well as Aid to the Church in Need, the Holy Childhood Association and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. During the two days prior to that meeting, members of ROACO visited many camps with displaced people, trying to evaluate their needs.

Msgr. John Kozar, head of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told Catholic News Service that water is the “single most important reality” and is always in short supply.

“Even in the midst of extreme poverty and the complete lack of privacy and personal or family space, the refugees were so loving, welcoming and filled with gratitude and hope,” he said. “Some who had no kitchen or running water humbled us by offering us tea.”

During a meeting with the displaced in Ankawa, one man told the agency heads: “The only thing we want is to go back home.”

Then a girl named Tamara, 12, told them with a radiant face: “ISIS took everything, but we still have our faith in Jesus Christ, and they will never take it.”

Read more.

7 May 2015
Greg Kandra

An oil over acrylic painting called "Burden" by Syrian artist Essa Neima.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Essa Neima)

A young Syrian painter named Essa Neima is translating the turmoil of his homeland into striking works of art:

At a recent exhibit, his oil on acrylic works ranged from depictions of damaged church and mosque mosaics, to a broken icon of Mary and a refugee woman forced into servitude by the need to survive.

Most of the paintings were strewn with the deep red color of blood.

“It is like treasure ... covered by blood because (of) what’s happening now, the sad events happening in Syria,” Neima told Catholic News Service in Washington, thousands of miles from his country, where conflict has killed nearly 200,000 people and dispersed about 10 million others, according to U.N. Estimates.

...He said he hoped his paintings would encourage more Americans to stand up against the war and to learn more about Syria’s rich heritage and culturally diverse society, often overlooked in U.S. news outlets, which he claimed were simplifying his country’s conflict.

“My message from this art show (is) to be a little bit optimistic about the situation and see things you don’t see it in the media,” Neima said.

“If I will watch (U.S.) media ... I see just three parties: There is a government, there is a free army and there are the extremists, and you think that there (are) just three parties and they are killing each other. The reality is there (are) a lot of people (who) care just to live peacefully. They just want their life to be safe, or they want to raise kids, or to have jobs, like the normal life.”

But even Neima seemed hard-pressed to understand how a conflict so violent could erupt in multicultural Syria, where he said he counted many friends from among the Arab country’s predominantly Muslim population.

“The Syrian society, when I was living there, was ... a liberal society. It wasn’t like I support the extremists because I am Muslim, or like because I am Christian I will belong to so and so ... there was not this category,” Neima said.

He said he had lived in Washington since 2012 and was teaching art at the University of the District of Columbia, but wanted eventually to return to Syria, where his parents and seven siblings still live, “when the conflict is over” and “everyone there accepts the other ... and lives in peace.”

To learn how you can support the suffering people of Syria, visit this giving page.

7 May 2015
Greg Kandra

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, speaks with displaced Iraqis on 4 May in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Report: Number of internally displaced around the world grows (AP) A group that monitors the plight of people forced out of their homes by conflicts says the number of people displaced within their own countries surged to 38 million last year, with a few countries led by Iraq accounting for much of the increase. The Geneva-based International Displacement Monitoring Center said the number of internally displaced people worldwide was 4.7 million higher than in 2013...

Rescue workers report evidence of Syria using chemical weapons (The New York Times) Two years after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, there is mounting evidence that his government is flouting international law to drop jerry-built chlorine bombs on insurgent-held areas...

Troops killed as ceasefire in Ukraine falters (CNN) Fighting has again shaken a nearly three-month ceasefire deal between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, leaving five Ukrainian troops dead in a 24-hour period, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday. Twelve other Ukrainian service members were injured in the fighting in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine, the country’s National Security and Defense Council said...

Israel investigating underground tunnels near kibbutz (Haaretz) The Israeli army on Wednesday notified Kibbutz Nirim in the northwest Negev that it will check for underground tunnels in the area, following geological surveys carried out in the kibbutz by a private company. Some two months ago a number of kibbutz members contracted Geotech, a company specializing in airborne geophysical survey mapping, to check for underground digging in the area. The kibbutz members had been complaining since the war in Gaza in the summer that they were hearing noises of digging underground...

How can American Catholics help Christians in the Middle East? (U.S. Catholic) The ISIS blitzkrieg into northern Iraq last summer and the subsequent decimation of one of the oldest Christian communities of the church — coupled with the so-called Islamic State’s recent executions of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians — have earned Middle East Christians some attention, if not quite the respect, of the politicians, candidates, policy wonks and journalists inside the Beltway. The headlines are dramatic and betray a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. How can Catholics respond to this diabolical assault?...

6 May 2015
Greg Kandra

The influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is creating a new class of poor in the country: the Lebanese people themselves.

In the Spring edition of ONE, reporter Raed Rafei notes:

In the past three years, more and more Lebanese have joined the ranks of the poor because of the influx of an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria — a staggering figure, representing one refugee for every three people already residing in Lebanon. International organizations and local government officials describe the impact of the refugee crisis on the country as “disastrous” because of fierce competition for jobs, inflation of food prices and rental costs, a slowing economy and growing needs that have overwhelmed social services, infrastructure and government resources.

Read more about “Lebanon on the Brink” in the magazine. And for a graphic look at what all this means, check out Raed Rafei’s powerful video below, profiling one Lebanese family:

6 May 2015
Greg Kandra

The Harlem Globetrotters meet the globetrotting Pope Francis after his General Audience
on 6 May. (photo: Vatican Radio)

A famous basketball team inducted a new member today:

Pope Francis met on Wednesday with members of the Harlem Globetrotters, the famous basketball team from the United States.

During the encounter, they gave the Holy Father a jersey with the name “Pope Francis” and the number 90.

The Harlem Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team founded in the 1920’s, featuring African-American players at a time when most sports were segregated. In later years, they were known for adding comedy and stunts to their routines. They are currently in Italy as part of their 2015 international tour.

Before meeting the Pope, members of the team entertained members of the crowd, spinning their signature red-white-and-blue basketballs.

The Harlem Globetrotters met with Pope St. John Paul II in 2000, and named him an Honorary Harlem Globetrotter.

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