10 June 2019
Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Nizar Semaan is seen during his 7 June 2019, episcopal ordination at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, Iraq, his birthplace.
(photo: CNS/Syriac Catholic Patriarchate)
Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Nizar Semaan begins his new mission in Iraq with hope “that Christianity will flourish again” in his homeland.
Bishop Semaan chose the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, Iraq, his birthplace, as the site of his episcopal ordination on 7 June.
Still scarred from the Islamic State group and not yet fully restored, the church, Bishop Semaan said, is “a symbol of what happened to our cities and villages in 2014 until the liberation (in 2017) from ISIS.”
It’s also the church where the new bishop was ordained a priest in 1991.
Located in the Ninevah Plain, Qaraqosh was the largest Christian city in Iraq. Its 50,000 residents -- all of them Christian -- were expelled by Islamic State forces in a single night during the summer of 2014. They were among 120,000 Christians uprooted from Mosul and the Ninevah Plain that summer.
Of his new mission as a bishop, Bishop Semaan told Catholic News Service his ministry is “all about challenges: political challenges, economical challenges, spiritual challenges, social challenges.”
Yet he is optimistic.
“I’m sure with the help and prayers of many people who are interested in the Christians of Iraq, we will carry our mission and we will go ahead for a brighter future,” he said.
In his homily during the ordination Mass, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan acknowledged the challenges facing the church in northern Iraq. Pointing to the “terrible calamity” that affected “the most precious diocese in our Syriac Catholic Church,” he said his people’s resilience is “an example of the heroic testimony and the steadfastness in the face of the evil forces that wanted to kill hope in your believing souls.”
The patriarch noted how parishioners “carried the cross,” following the example of Jesus. “Your hope has won the admiration of the faithful around the world, in the East and West.”
Bishop Semaan, who spent 14 years as a priest in London, said he plans to focus on building: not just in the physical sense with new construction, but especially restoring relationships among Iraqis and to work on healing “the psychological and spiritual injury of our people.”
“It wasn’t easy for our people, who lived here their entire life and in one night, suddenly, immediately they lost everything, and found themselves without a piece of bread to eat, sleeping in the street, to be forced to live as refugees in the north, Ankawa, Kurdistan, Irbil,” he said.
Such horrific trauma, he explained, left deep wounds in people’s hearts and minds.
Stressing the pastoral role of priests and bishops, he said that establishing peace, political stability and security in Iraq is not in the hands of the church.
“For this, we need the help of the international community,” to put pressure on the Iraqi government so that people can live in dignity, with democracy and respect for human rights, he said.
Without security, Bishop Semaan noted, it is difficult for Christians to be expected to stay in Iraq and restart their lives. Likewise, he said, the lack of security hinders economic investment.
He urged Christians in the West to encourage their government “to look at the situation of Christians in Iraq and try to find a political solution.”
“We need their support and prayers, as well as economic help,” Bishop Semaan said.
While touring Qaraqosh before his installation, the new bishop said he was struck by how, in two years, the community was able to rebuild again, citing as evidence numerous homes, shops and restaurants.
“It’s kind of like a miracle,” he said. “This is a sign of hope, really.”
More reconstruction is needed, Bishop Semaan told CNS, and for that the Christian community in the region must depend on the continued help from international charities and church groups.
Although there are no exact figures, Bishop Semaan said about 20,000 people have returned to Qaraqosh, where he will be based initially.
Bishop Semaan said his return to Iraq is grounded in the hope “that Christianity will flourish again in Iraq, and every Christian will play his positive role in rebuilding the new Iraq.”
“Everyone around the world should care about what is happening to the Christians of Iraq,” Bishop Semaan said, adding that without help, “in 20 years we will vanish from here.”
Bishop Semaan noted that Pope Francis “is always talking about the importance of Christianity in the Middle East, the importance of staying here, giving testimony to our faith. We need help to continue our mission in the Middle East.”
In 2003, about 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq. Their presence dates to apostolic times. Now that number has dwindled to about 250,000, according to international observers.
For his motto as bishop, Bishop Semaan chose Galatians 5:22: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness. “Most important is peace and patience,” he said.
He said he hopes to bring that inspiration to the people of Iraq.
“If you look at the faces of our people and what they endured, you can see the sadness in their eyes,” he said. “They need a happy person.”
10 June 2019
Tags: Iraq Syriac Catholic Church
Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq, center, concelebrates the liturgy at St. Thomas Syriac Catholic Church in the old city of Mosul in February. Announcing his desire to visit Iraq in 2020, Pope Francis called for a peaceful resolution to crises in the Middle East.
(photo: CNS/Khalid al-Mousily, Reuters)
Pope hopes to visit Iraq in 2020 (Vatican News) Pope Francis said on Monday he “thinks constantly of Iraq”, where he wishes to travel in the coming year. He was addressing representatives of ROACO, the ‘Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches.’ As he listed countries that fall within the Reunion’s reach and where the faithful continue to suffer, — including Syria, Ukraine and the Holy Land — the Pope focused on Iraq…
Pope Francis releases message for World Mission Sunday 2019 (Vatican News) World Mission Sunday in 2019 falls on 20 October. Instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1926, the annual day encourages prayers, cooperation and help for missions as well as reminding Christians about the fundamental missionary character of the Church and of every baptized person. The theme of this year’s observance is “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World”…
Inside Lebanon’s most dangerous refugees camps (The Independent) The original refugee camp at Bourj al-Barajneh was once a sea of canvas tents. Today it is a concrete labyrinth hiding Lebanon’s social outcasts, more than 20,000 Palestinian refugees, from view…
UN: Up to 2 million Syrians could flee to Turkey (Reuters) Up to two million refugees could flee to Turkey if fighting intensifies in north-western Syria as aid funds run dangerously low, the United Nations said on Monday. Syria’s Russian-backed regime forces have been pressing an assault on opposition and rebels in their last major stronghold with air attacks and ground battles that have already forced tens of thousands to leave their homes…
7 June 2019
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Lebanon Refugees Refugee Camps
A widow stands amid the rubble of her destroyed home in Mudulisahi, India, on 22 May 2019, in the aftermath of Cyclone Fani. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
Sabi Swati, stood on the ruins of her brick house, which had been ravaged by powerful cyclone Fani in early May, asking, “What will I do?”
“I am awaiting support to repair my house. I cannot stay in the palm-shed I am living in now when the monsoon comes (in mid-June),” Swati told Catholic News Service.
Nearby, Catholic Relief Service workers conducted a survey of damaged properties and the needs of hundreds of people who were evacuated from the remote village in Odisha state and returned home to find massive destruction.
Swati was not alone in her bewilderment. Dozens of people continued to wonder about their future a month after the storm as aid relief agencies worked to distribute emergency assistance and hygiene supplies.
Nearly all of the 120-plus houses in Mudulisahi suffered extensive damage from the storm that packed winds of 160 miles per hour when it walloped coastal and inland areas of eastern Odisha state on 3 May. Authorities said 70 people died and more than 500,000 families were affected by the cyclone.
Rows of roofless and severely damaged houses surrounded by stumps of headless and twisted coconut trees bear witness to Fani’s devastation throughout the region. Even a concrete roof in the village of Purushottam Ballabha, where CRS had distributed relief supplies, had sustained severe damage.
Because of timely and precise forecasts, the government was able to evacuate nearly 1.5 million people to inland communities ahead of the storm, Bhishnupada Sethi, special relief commissioner of Odisha, said, acknowledging that the swift action likely saved dozens if not hundreds of lives.
Sethi said the storm caused more than $1.7 billion in damage as assessments continued at the end of May.
“Over two lakh (US$200,000) families have been severely affected with their roofs blown away,” Sethi told CNS on 3 June.
“Along with restoring electricity and other amenities, our immediate target is to reach assistance to these families before the monsoon breaks in (mid-June),” Sethi said.
“We are reaching relief and cash assistance to over 100,000 families. Many (international) relief organizations are carrying out making meaningful relief and rehabilitation work. The government is working in coordination with them,” he added.
In Benpanjuri village, Caritas India workers met Sapura Bibi, whose home was roofless with the sun blazing into its interior. Bibi posed the same question heard countless times since the storm: “How can I live in this house?”
“Luckily, I had taken shelter with my children in the (government) cyclone shelter. Prone to cyclones frequently due to its curved coastline in the Bat of Bengal, Odisha has built thousands of cyclone shelters,” she said.
Anjan Bag, technical manager for humanitarian response with Caritas India, said the evacuation saved lives because Fani was more powerful and destructive than a super cyclone in 1999 that left more than 10,000 dead.
“The country realized the massive devastation only later. When I rushed to Odisha, there was neither electricity nor water. We had to sleep in the open under mosquito nets to coordinate the relief work,” Bag told CNS 6 June.
As of 3 June, Caritas India had distributed emergency shelter material to 5,537 households in 88 villages in addition to food supplies to more than 1,000 families, he said.
While the Caritas network has already donated nearly $255,000, Bag said, several other agencies have come forward to support a planned housing rehabilitation program. Homeowners will be trained in home reconstruction as well as small-business development.
7 June 2019
In this image from 2015, Pope Francis greets Russian President Vladimir Putin as he arrives for a private meeting at the Vatican. The two will meet again in July, possibly paving the way for a future papal visit to Russia. (photo:CNS/Alexei Nikolsky, RIA Novosti/Kremlin via Reuters)
Putin July trip to Rome could pave way for papal trip to Russia (Reuters) The Vatican said Putin, who will be on a state visit to Italy, will hold talks with the Argentinian-born pope on 4 July. The meeting, their third since Francis was elected in 2013, comes at a time of improving relations between the Vatican and the world’s Orthodox Churches. It also will be their first since Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met in 2016, a landmark step in healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity…
Lebanon imposes curfew on Syria refugees (Middle East Monitor) Lebanon has restricted the movement of Syrian refugees in the Deir El-Ahmar area until Friday after a fire engine was ambushed yesterday. Governor of Baalbek, Bachir Khodr, imposed the severe restrictions on the refugees after a fireman was hopsitalised in the attack. A Syrian man is reported to have been involved in the attack…
Myths put lives of young Indian women at risk (UCANews.com) In large swathes of rural India, as well as some urban pockets, females are considered impure and segregated when menstruating. They are forced to sleep in separate ”menstruation huts,” which are often cowsheds or barns. Poverty and a general lack of awareness of health issues pushes them even closer to death as they are prone to infections while bleeding, or can be bitten by snakes or other wild animals in the huts, experts say…
Visiting the ’Sistine Chapel of Iran’ shows Christian-Muslim coexistence (B.C. Catholic) Located in the ancient Persian capital of Isfahan, this church is also known as Vank Cathedral (“Vank” is the Armenian word for monastery or convent). An Armenian Orthodox church, this gem is hidden behind walls, a living intersection of Perso-Christian-Islamic culture in one of the world’s oldest civilizations. The church is a part of old Christianity not often seen in that part of the world, a living proof of the harmony that has long existed among Muslims and Christians. In fact, it is one of the best places to observe a coexistence of cultures and religions…
Vatican to launch radio news service in Latin (Vatican News) Starting on Saturday, 8 June, a 5-minute weekly news bulletin in Latin will be broadcast to the world on Vatican Radio frequencies through the Italian language audio channels. Of course you will also be able to follow it on our web portal and listen to it on podcast, and it will soon be available on the English-language audio frequencies as well…
6 June 2019
Tags: Syria India Lebanon Muslim Iran
Former Bishop Geevarghese Mar Timotheos of India died Tuesday at the age of 91.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
We received some sad news this week from India, regarding a man who was a great champion of the poor:
Geevarghese Mar Timotheos, 91, former bishop of Tiruvalla Diocese of the Syro Malankara Catholic Church, passed away on Tuesday morning. The funeral will be held at St John’s Metropolitan Cathedral on Thursday. He was under treatment at Pushpagiri Medical College Hospital for the past six days due to age-related health problems.
Timotheos started his service as a priest under the Tiruvalla Diocese. He was the administrator of the diocese in 1987. He was elevated as bishop in 1988. He worked for the upgradation of Pushpagiri Hospital as medical college. Many hospitals and charity homes were launched by him when he served as bishop. He retired in 2003. He also served as the secretary of Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council (KCBC).
He was featured in our magazine in 1995, in a story entitled The Heirs of St. Thomas.
May his memory be eternal.
6 June 2019
Tags: Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Indian Bishops
Pope Francis greets people as he visits Our Lady Queen of Iasi Cathedral in Iasi, Romania on 1 June 2019. During his audience Wednesday, the pope expressed joy at being among the Romanian people last week. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
Pope expresses joy at being among Romanian people (Vatican News) During his Catechesis at the Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis recalled his recent visit to Romania following in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II. The motto of the visit was “Let’s walk together” and the Pope expressed his joy at being able to walk as a pilgrim among the Romanian people. The Pontiff said that the various meetings whilst there “highlighted the value and the need to walk together both among Christians, on the level of faith and charity, and among citizens, on the level of civil commitment…”
Syrian airstrikes kill civilians in Idlib (Al Jazeera)At least five civilians were killed by Russian and Syrian government warplanes that targeted Syria’s northwest as residents marked the holiday of Eid al-Fitr. A local source told Anadolu Agency the five people died on Wednesday in air attacks targeting the town of Kansafra and three villages in Idlib…
Pope to meet Putin before Vatican Ukraine meeting (ABC News) Pope Francis will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican next month, a day before Catholic leaders from Ukraine gather at the Holy See to discuss the continuing conflict there and the fallout from the schism between the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches…
Child beggars are the face of poverty in Gaza (Haaretz) There’s a fine line between being a peddler and beggar. The peddlers offer bunches of fresh mint, cookies, gum and tissues. When you refuse, they plead: “Please, give me something.” Many of the peddlers are children, who are up late in any event during Ramadan. They could be seen walking around after 1 A.M. hawking their small supply of wares...
5 June 2019
Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Romania
Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak speaks to his flock in Philadelphia after his enthronement. (photo: CNEWA)
I had the privilege of representing CNEWA yesterday at the enthronement ceremony of Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak, as he became head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia — and, consequently, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the United States.
More than 1,000 people from around the world — including CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York — came to the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for this important day.
There was a great atmosphere in the cathedral, and no wonder: Metropolitan Borys has demonstrated in the last 20 years that he is driven by the Holy Spirit to do God’s work. He has inspired so many, in many corners of the world. I am reminded in particular of the remarkable work he has done at the Ukrainian Catholic University, where he was one of the founders.
In his very humble and moving speech after the liturgy, he spoke brilliantly of his vision for the church. He warned people not to be too distracted with all the glory of the celebration, with its fine vestments. Yes, it is a grand day, he said, and we should celebrate. But, he added, the church is about finding Jesus and promoting his teachings.
The metropolitan also asked a good friend in a wheelchair to come and join him for part of his talk. He alluded to the humanitarian and theologian, the recently deceased Jean Vanier, saying that he is a model of what the church should be. He explained how Jesus is found in the poor, in the handicapped, in the marginalized. The church is to serve them, he said, and he invited everyone to join him and the Lord in this great work.
Metropolitan Borys was clearly moved by the day and by the task ahead. I was humbled to be there for this moment. I left the cathedral uplifted and inspired — more committed than ever to continue CNEWA’s work with Ukrainian church leaders such as him in Ukraine, in Canada and in the United States.
For more, read Prayer and Protest, Borys Gudziak’s first-person account of the 2013 Kiev uprising in the Spring 2014 edition of ONE.
5 June 2019
Tags: Ukraine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
In this image from 2017, a Dominican sister visits the Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah in Qaraqosh, Iraq, heavily damaged by ISIS. The United Nations has established 22 August as the Day to Commemorate Victims of Violence Based on Religion. (photo: Raed Rafei)
On 28 May, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing 22 August as the Day to Commemorate Victims of Violence Based on Religion.
The resolution invites all member states, relevant organizations, civil society, individuals and the private sector to observe the international day and show appropriate support for victims of religiously motivated violence.
In the wake of recent religiously motivated terrorist attacks, the resolution notes a serious concern for “continuing acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief against individuals, including against persons belonging to religious communities and religious minorities around the world, and at the increasing number and intensity of such incidents.”
Poland initiated work toward the commemorative day, but united with Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, and the United States to co-draft the resolution.
Ultimately, 88 U.N. member states voted to co-sponsor the resolution.
“The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which is commonly referred to as the right to freedom of religion or belief, is a universal right of every human being and the cornerstone of many other rights,” Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz said in his keynote speech before the vote.
In response, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington issued a statement praising the resolution.
“We applaud the U.N. General Assembly for adopting this resolution, which acknowledges and honors victims of violence based on religion or belief around the world,” said Tenzin Dorjee, chair of the commission. “But we must not stop at condemnation. Like-minded governments must also increasingly work together to hold perpetrators accountable, whether they are state or nonstate actors responsible for the abuses.”
The Vatican, too, commented on the resolution after its adoption in a statement released by its Permanent Observer Mission to the U.N. The statement recalled the recent religiously motivated violence in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, California and Burkina Faso.
“This resolution and the international day it establishes is an opportunity for the international community to focus on the victims and to strengthen efforts to eradicate such violence and acts of terrorism targeting persons because of their religion or belief,” it said.
The Vatican also reminded the U.N. that religion and belief cannot be blamed for these acts. They are, rather, deviations from religious practices and must be condemned.
5 June 2019
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians United Nations
Clergy from around the world process for the enthronement of Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak as head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on 4 June 2019.
(photo: CNS/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)
Ukrainian Catholic Church installs new leader (AP) An Eastern Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania has installed a new leader. The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia has named the Rev. Borys Gudziak as the metropolitan archbishop, which makes him the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States. Gudziak is a 58-year-old native of Syracuse, New York. He succeeds Stefan Soroka, who resigned for health reasons last year…
Ethiopian Christians, Muslims clean stadium in show of solidarity for Eid-al-Fitr (NAIJ.com) Ethiopian Christians on Monday, 3 June, joined their Muslim brothers and sisters in a clean up exercise to show solidarity and love ahead of the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Leading the group was Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed who was also spotted sweeping the ground where the celebrations are expected to take place on Wednesday when the Muslim community across the world mark Eid-al-Fitr…
UN: crops and farmland being burned in Syria as a ’weapon of war’ (Al Jazeera) Thousands of hectares of vital crops and farmland have been set on fire by fighters in northwest Syria in a campaign that has turned food supplies into a “weapon of war”, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said…
Egypt’s president speaks out on Muslim treatment of Christians (National Review) Sunday Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi delivered a speech during a ceremony in Cairo for Laylat al-Qadr, which is one of the odd-numbered nights during the last ten days of Ramadan. Since before the Egyptian revolution in 2011 propelled the country into chaos and till this year, Egypt’s Coptic Christian population has been facing a wave of persecution that some Copts describe as the worst in 700 years. President Sisi’s remarks, however, may be a sign of his efforts imploring peaceful coexistence in Egypt between Muslims and Christians…
4 June 2019
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Muslim Ukrainian Catholic Church
Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak displays the papal bull about his appointment during his enthronement as head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on 4 June 2019.
(photo: CNS/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)
Tags: Ukrainian Catholic Church