4 April 2019
A Daughter of Charity cares for orphans at the Crèche in Bethlehem. (photo: Samar Hazboun)
In the latest edition of ONE, writer Diane Handal reports on the exceptional work undertaken by three groups of religious sisters in the Holy Land. Below, she describes how her journey began, as she arrived in Israel.
I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport from Istanbul, awaiting the last leg of the trip: Tel Aviv to Jerusalem’s Old City.
The blue-and-white flag of Israel with the Star of David was everywhere as I walked toward passport control.
I took the shuttle bus down to Jerusalem with half a dozen other travelers. We drove by the green rolling hills of Ma’ale Adumim, about four miles from Jerusalem, an urban Israeli settlement and city in the West Bank. In 2015, the population was close to 38,000.
A religious sister from the Ukraine in a white habit with a red cross embroidered on her veil sat across from me and a young man from Vancouver sat beside me; it was his first visit to the Holy Land. The three of us departed at the Jaffa Gate only to find we were at the bottom of the huge wall and had to climb up to the actual gate with our baggage. I asked the driver why he left us below and his reply was that it would cost 50 more shekels (about $14) to be taken to the gate. The ride from the airport was $20. I wanted to scream.
The sister helped me carry my two bags and a stranger grabbed her bags and we trekked up together.
This was her second trip to the Holy Land and she said she was with the Russian church, which I believe was the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky.
Jaffa Gate was bustling with tourists and families who came to hear a classical music concert next to a huge Menorah with bright blue lights.
I dragged my bags to my hotel on one of the narrow winding stone streets of the Old City, and later went in search of a new shawarma place in the Christian Quarter, said to be better than my favorite in Bethlehem, Abu Ali.
I walked for a half hour through the narrow stone passages with their uneven steps that were slippery from the pouring rain. Merchants on both sides were standing in front of their stalls of pottery, religious artifacts, embroidered Palestinian dresses, jewelry, spices, fresh orange and pomegranate juice; some were using a broom to sweep the water back.
Every shopkeeper I asked sent me in a different direction. But eventually, I did find Maria’s and was greeted with “Ahlan wa Sahlan,” (Welcome) by Jack, the owner. He named the restaurant after his daughter Maria whom he had lost.
A young German couple from Berlin was sitting at a table. They had just come from Tel Aviv and were surprised by the high prices, even the hostels. They loved Jack’s shawarma, as did I.
The following day, I went to Bethlehem. It was cold, raining, and very windy. The sky was a steel gray, matching the wall that surrounds the city, only brightened by colorful graffiti. International graffiti artists include the anonymous Bansky, also a political activist and film director. His street art and subversive sayings combine dark humor with graffiti using a unique stenciling technique.
For Israelis, this is a security wall, which they claim protects them from Palestinian attackers trying to enter Israel.??For Palestinians, this is the reality: a concrete wall, stretching over 430 miles, a 25-foot high cement barrier representing what they see as apartheid.
I visited the Crèche (Holy Family Children’s Home) in Bethlehem, the only orphanage in the West Bank run by the Daughters of Charity.
When I walked into the nursery, about a dozen cribs lined the wall with colorful mobiles over each. My heart sank. Most of the babies were sleeping; a few were whimpering.
At the far right corner were two babies tucked under pink blankets who were 10 days old. Their mother had been sexually abused by male relatives and was in hiding for fear of being killed for ”dishonoring” her family.
In the middle of the cribs was a little baby girl whose mother was 14 years old; the mother had also been sexually abused by a family member. At the far left, a little baby named Nadia was lying on her stomach. She had brown hair and her big brown eyes darted back and forth. She had been left on the street by her mother.
My heart ached for these innocent babies, thinking of what lies ahead for each of them in this very conservative Middle Eastern culture where adoption is forbidden under Islamic law.
On the way to the checkpoint, I stopped at the Bansky Museum inside “The Walled Off Hotel,” which he owns.
The hotel offers guests “the ugliest view in the world,” a novelty. Looking out from the windows of the lobby or one of the rooms, one is forced to face “The Separation Wall.”
And then, it was on to the checkpoint and young heavily-armed Israeli soldiers checking papers and passports and, asking many questions.
Read more about sisters Seeing the Face of Jesus in the March 2019 edition of ONE.
15 February 2019
Tags: Jerusalem Daughters of Charity
Even if Christians struggle to recognize him with his “torn clothes (and) dirty feet,” Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said.
If Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” are true, the pope said, then “we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the ‘others’ who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person.”
Pope Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated 15 February at a church-run retreat and conference center in Sacrofano, about 15 miles north of Rome.
The Mass was part of a conference titled, “Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear,” which was sponsored by the Italian bishops’ office for migration, Caritas Italy and Jesuit Refugee Service’s Centro Astalli. The 500 participants included representatives of parishes, religious orders and Catholic-run agencies assisting migrants and refugees, as well as individual families who host newcomers.
At a time when Italy’s government is trying to severely restrict immigration, Caritas Italy said the meeting was designed to encourage those working with migrants and refugees and to counteract fear of migration by highlighting how individuals and the entire country benefit from welcoming them.
At a Mass on Friday, Pope Francis preached about the necessity of welcoming migrants and refugees. (video: CNS/YouTube)
The prayers of the faithful, most of which were read by migrants, included asking God to help pastors educate all Catholics to welcome migrants and refugees and to help government leaders promote tolerance and peace. Ending, as is traditional, with a prayer for the dead, the petitions made special mention of people who were killed for their faith.
In his homily, Pope Francis noted how the ancient Israelites had to overcome their fear of crossing the Red Sea and trust God in order to make it to the promised land. And, when the disciples were on the lake in a storm, Jesus told them to not be afraid and assured them he was there with them.
“The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to allow him to free us of our fear,” the pope said.
“Fear is the origin of slavery,” just as it was for the ancient Israelites, he said, “and it is also the origin of every dictatorship because, on the fear of the people, the violence of the dictator grows.”
Of course, the pope said, people naturally are afraid of what they don’t understand and of strangers who speak another language and have another culture. The Christian response is not to play on those fears, but to educate people and help them turn strangers into friends.
“We are called to overcome fear and open ourselves to encounter,” he said. “The encounter with the ‘other,’ then, is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us this. It is he who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted.”
Pope Francis asked Catholics who have had “the joy” of assisting migrants and refugees to “proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and his salvation.”
14 February 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Migrants
Through countless efforts across Egypt, the Coptic Catholic Church — although numerically small — works tirelessly to elevate lives and promote the flourishing of communities. The challenges are great, particularly when serving those who are marginalized.
But some of the success stories offer inspiration and, in so many ways, signs of hope.
Video produced by Roger Anis for CNEWA.
Learn more about the remarkable work underway in Egypt in Signs of Hope in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
10 December 2018
Tags: Egypt Coptic
The CNEWA team visited St. Lawrence Martyr Parish in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Last weekend, our little CNEWA team hit the road once again, this time heading to Hanover, Maryland in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. There, we spent time at St. Lawrence Martyr Parish, where I had the privilege of preaching at all the Masses and sharing the story of CNEWA’s work in the Middle East, particularly among refugees and those who have faced religious persecution.
The parish is staffed by the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, or Trinitarians — a group of priests and brothers founded by St. John de Matha. They trace their roots all the way back to the 12th century. The order has a special charism to the imprisoned — especially those imprisoned for their faith — and the parish in Maryland has a lay ministry devoted to this, known as SIT:
In 1999, the Trinitarian Order established an organization within their order called SIT (Solidaridad Internacional Trinitaria or Trinitarian International Solidarity) that focuses on our fellow Christians who suffer persecution because of their commitment to Christ and His Church. In October 2015, we started SIT St. Lawrence at the parish level to try and bring awareness and assistance to the persecuted Christians around the world.
It was this group, under the leadership of parishioner Matt Behum, that welcomed us to the parish and gave us the opportunity to share our story at the Masses.
Matt Behum, center, welcomed Chris Kennedy (l) and Deacon Greg Kandra (r) to the parish.
Deacon Greg preached at all the Masses over the weekend and shared stories about CNEWA's work among persecuted Christians. (photo: CNEWA)
The people in the pews were eager to learn more and my colleague, development associate Chris Kennedy, was only too happy to share information, literature and copies of our award-winning magazine, ONE.
CNEWA's Chris Kennedy greeted parishioners after the Masses. (photo: CNEWA)
It was a wonderful weekend. We’re grateful to the faith community at St. Lawrence for their warn welcome. We want to thank in particular the Trinitarians— the Rev. Binoy Akkalayil, O.SS.T. and the pastor, the Rev. Victor Scocco, O.SS.T.—for their generous hospitality and fellowship.
Father Binoy, Deacon Greg, Chris Kennedy and Father Victor. (photo: CNEWA)
During this season of Advent, it was especially meaningful to speak about bringing the light of Christ into the world through our mission and our ministry, and to remind people of the ongoing suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters around the world. We continue to lift them up in prayer.
We’re always eager to spread the word about CNEWA’s work and let others know how they can make a difference. If you would like us to visit your parish or group, please drop Chris Kennedy a line: email@example.com.
St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Hanover, Maryland. (photo: CNEWA)
7 December 2018
Tags: Syria Iraq ISIS Persecution
CNEWA will be visiting St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Hanover, Md. this weekend.
CNEWA is heading to scenic Maryland this weekend (my home state!) where I’ll be preaching at all the Masses about CNEWA’s work. We'll be at St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Hanover, Maryland in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I’ll be traveling with my colleague Christopher Kennedy from our development department.
Can’t make it Sunday? We’ll be giving a special presentation about CNEWA after the 5 p.m. Mass on Saturday.
It’s a great privilege to be able to share our story — particularly during this beautiful time of year, Advent, when our hearts are anticipating the joy of Christmas and are uplifted by the hope of Christ’s coming.
I had a chance to talk about that and more with Christopher Gunty, editor of Baltimore’s Catholic Review, on the archdiocese’s radio program Catholic Baltimore. You can give a listen to that right here.
We love visiting churches or groups around the country to speak about our mission. Can we pay you a visit? Just drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meantime, see you in Maryland!
7 November 2018
This week, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, received a letter from a longtime friend and partner in the Middle East, Samir Nassar, the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Syria.
The note featured this image of a praying St. John Paul II:
Inside was this message:
Archbishop Nassar also included a letter with this poignant plea:
IS SYRIA A FORGOTTEN LAND?
It is often said that the Syrian war is the worst and most cruel seen by the world since the Second World War.
The fact that seemingly much of the violence has died down has made us wonder if Syria is remembered at all by most of the world…what a chaotic scene:
600,000 dead with only some buried in dignity and many others in collective graves. All this has meant that many families live in perpetual sorrow and emotional instability.
200,000 have disappeared, including two bishops and four priests; this has made life a nightmare for those who grieve for their loved ones — parents, friends and the churches who have no news of them.
13,000,000 refugees — a very heavy burden as a consequence of this world war game on the Syrian territory…whole populations who suffer in silence and despair. Bitterness and a loss of meaning to life…a broken people, scattered and searching for a future.
95,000 hands cut off, feet amputated or paralyzed in a country which is ill-prepared to handle these sorts of problems alone, and the subsequent psychological and health consequences.
2,500,000 dwellings demolished or destroyed.
Local currency is valueless and inflation has risen alarmingly; the exodus of the young has marked the remaining hopes for future growth.
Faced with these scenes of desolation in the church in Syria, I cannot fall into the role of a mere spectator. The church is a strong witness of the Spirit and the Light which it brings. She is a sign of the Presence and a witness in the domain of health care, education, pastoral work with the young, family support, accompanying fragile families and supporting in every way the less fortunate. All of this is done in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
If the world has forgotten Syria, the Lord is watching over her and will not let the boat flounder!
He added a personal handwritten note, too:
Thank you, dear Msgr. Kozar, for the mission of CNEWA in Syria. Our problems are too heavy. Please pray for us. We prepare for Christmas with a heavy Calvary. God bless you for all that you did and do.
Please do not let Syria become a "forgotten land." Their needs are great. Remember them in your prayers.
7 November 2018
U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, arrive for a press conference at the Vatican on 7 November. The Knights are preparing for a major meeting in Rome.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The 30,000 members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem fund about 80 percent of the annual budget of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, ensuring that Catholic parishes and seminaries, schools and hospitals in Israel, Palestine and Jordan continue to function, said U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien.
The cardinal, grand master of the Vatican-based order, said the knights and dames of the order come from 40 countries and pledge their prayers, their financial support and personal visits to the Holy Land to support the local Catholic communities there and to encourage ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation.
Every five years, leaders of the order from around the world gather for their general assembly, called a “consulta.” The meeting was scheduled for 13-16 November in Rome and was expected to include an audience with Pope Francis.
Meeting with reporters on 7 November, Cardinal O’Brien said the knights and dames “do not become involved in local government or political questions” in the Holy Land but offer support to the local Catholic Church there in cooperation with the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
Cardinal O’Brien said the order provides about $15 million each year in grants to Catholic projects in the Holy Land. Most are run by the Latin patriarchate, but the Maronite and Melkite Catholic churches also receive assistance.
The knights and dames of the Holy Sepulchre have given priority to education and formation programs, said Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, governor general of the order. By supporting 35 nursery schools and 41 elementary and high schools in Israel and Palestine, he said, the order’s members hope “to improve their quality and, through them, to make a fundamental contribution to the pacification of the region.”
About 57 percent of the 19,000 students in the schools are Christian, and most of the others are Muslim, he said. But all of them learn “our values of dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect,” which should help “overcome that violent confrontation that for years has martyred peaceful coexistence among people of different ethnic and religious groups.”
Cardinal O’Brien said each member of the equestrian order pledges to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least once in his or her lifetime, but most go regularly. The pilgrimage is built around prayer and visits to the holy sites, but always includes visits to schools, clinics, parishes and other projects funded by the knights and dames.
The funds are disbursed as grants, the cardinal said, and members of the grant-making committee visit the Holy Land three times a year to monitor the projects.
The order’s headquarters near the Vatican occupies a small part of the 15th-century Palazzo della Rovere; most of the order’s building was rented out to a company that ran it as the Hotel Columbus. The order’s contract with the hotel company expired years ago and, after a court-ordered eviction was issued in 2016, the hotel closed in May.
Visconti said the Italian government is insisting that restoration work be carried out on the hotel’s 15th- and 16th-century frescoes, and plumbing and other work is underway. But, he said, the knights and dames hope to have a new company renting the building and running it as a hotel soon, because the rental income covers the order’s administrative costs, allowing all donations to go directly to the Holy Land.
16 October 2018
Tags: Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre
Paul VI meets with leaders of the CNEWA/Pontifical Mission family at the Vatican, including Cardinal Francis Spellman, chair of CNEWA, and Archbishop Joseph Ryan, then-president of CNEWA.
(photo: CNEWA archives)
On Sunday, 14 October, Pope Francis canonized seven saints — including Pope Paul VI, who was the bishop of Rome from 1963 until his death in 1978. The man who is now St. Paul VI was long a champion of our work around the world — beginning in the 1940’s.
During World War II, then-Msgr. Giovanni Batttista Montini, who served Pope Pius XII, organized and directed the Holy See’s relief efforts for refugees. At a November 1948 meeting in the Vatican — during which the idea of a papal mission specifically for displaced persons in Palestine was discussed — it was Msgr. Montini who penciled in the name of the head of CNEWA, then Msgr. Thomas J. McMahon, to lead such an effort. Thus was born the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, which Pius XII entrusted to CNEWA as its operating agency in the Middle East.
Years later, as Pope Paul VI showed an even deeper commitment to the work of CNEWA. To begin with, he announced plans to open his pontificate with a historic trip to the Holy Land:
In December 1963, during the council [Vatican II], Paul VI announced his intention to begin his pontificate with a “pilgrimage of prayer and penance” to the Holy Land:
“We will bring to the Holy Sepulchre and to the Grotto of the Nativity the desires of individuals, of families, of nations; above all, the aspirations, the anxieties, the sufferings of the sick, the poor, the disinherited, the afflicted, of refugees, of those who suffer, those who weep, those who hunger and thirst for justice.”
He made the trip in January 1964:
Fired with the Gospel message of hope, the pope met with heads of state and religious leaders in the Holy Land. These visits culminated with his embrace in Jerusalem of Orthodoxy’s spiritual leader, Patriarch Athenagoras I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Before departing the Holy Land, Pope Paul VI assured [CNEWA’s Secretary and President of the Pontifical Mission] Msgr. Joseph Ryan, who accompanied the pontiff, of the Holy See’s commitment to the refugees and encouraged Ryan to further the Pontifical Mission’s efforts with Palestinians.
Paul VI’s pilgrimage resulted in social rehabilitation and development projects that, with support from the Pontifical Mission, changed the lives of many: Bethlehem University; Ephpheta Institute for hearing-impaired children; Tantur Ecumenical Institute; and Notre Dame of Jerusalem Pilgrimage Center. These diverse initiatives testified to the pope’s belief in the church as an instrument of reconciliation and hope.
At the Mount of Olives, Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras I lift the mutual excommunications dividing the Catholic and Orthodox churches, in January 1964.
(photo: CNEWA archives)
The following year, Pope Paul VI issued the groundbreaking document, Nostra Aetate, a declaration on the relation of the church to non-Christian religions, which noted not only Christianity’s historic connection to Jews, but also its respect for Muslims:
The church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all-powerful, the creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
In the years that followed, he never lost his concern with and affection for the peoples of the Middle East:
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Pontifical Mission, Pope Paul VI wrote to [CNEWA’s] Msgr. John G. Nolan … : ”The work of the Mission for Palestine has been one of the clearest signs of the Holy See’s concern for the welfare of the Palestinians, who are particularly dear to us because they are people of the Holy Land, because they include followers of Christ, and because they have been and are still being so tragically tried. We express again our heartfelt sharing in their sufferings and our support for their legitimate aspirations.” (16 July 1974)
Also in 1974, the Holy Father noted in Nobis in Animo that the Holy Land “is also a country in which, besides the Shrines and Holy Places, a Church — a community of believers in Christ — lives and works. Were their presence to cease, the Shrines would be without the warmth of the living witness and the Christian Holy Places of Jerusalem and the Holy Land would become like museums.”
Cardinal Jacques Martin, a co-worker of then Msgr. Montini for many years in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, in speaking of Pope Paul VI, noted, “The thing that most struck those who were close to him was that he gave himself entirely to the service of the church, without second thoughts, without holding back any of his time or energy. At one a.m. the light was often still burning in his office. He was a man consumed by his work, a man who gave himself entirely.”
We remain deeply grateful for the love and passion he brought to his papacy — and which he shared so selflessly with the suffering peoples in the Holy Land, a place now so fraught with division, hardship and violence. So many of those we serve need his prayerful intercession now, more than ever.
Pope Paul VI prays at the River Jordan during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1964.
(photo: CNEWA archives)
With humble gratitude and boundless hope, we join our voices to so many others around the world this day to pray for his accompaniment, his prophetic vision, and his courage. May his spirit help us to help others, and may his prayers guide us on our way.
”St. Paul VI, pray for us!”
19 September 2018
Tags: CNEWA Pope CNEWA Pontifical Mission
CNEWA's external affairs officer, the Rev. Elias Mallon, S.A., speaks at Holy Family Parish in Lawton, OK, during a parish visit in 2015. (photo: Christopher Kennedy)
We were heartened to see this recent report in The Sooner Catholic about a parish in Oklahoma that has been supporting CNEWA’s work:
There has been a war in Syria since 2011, and half the country has been displaced, meaning families are no longer living in their hometowns, cities or villages. Thousands are victims of the war and are in dire need of help.
For the past three years, Holy Family in Lawton has made it their mission to help those war-stricken families by giving Lenten offerings to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
“Every Lent, we have a special Lenten Project. The past three years it has been Syrian refugees, the Dominican Sisters of Iraq, and refugees,” said the Rev. Phil Seeton, pastor of Holy Family.
“People are invited to drop an envelope into a basket that we have marked with CNEWA information. As they come up, they are bringing their gifts to the altar. I know from letters that the money has gone to medical clinics, and to some refugee camps. The refugees served in the camps are mainly members of the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic churches, the Assyrian Church of the East as well as Yzdidis and Muslims.”
Father Phil expressed the need to do more.
“These folks are brothers and sisters in the faith, and they are not getting much help from governments. It comes through the generosity of the different Christian churches in Europe and the United States. These people are modern day confessors to the faith. Maybe they have not been martyred, but there are thousands who have been martyred for Christ over there. They are confessing their faith with their lives.”
Luscia Hankins is the co-chairman of Holy Family’s Spiritual Life Committee, along with Mary Beth Mullins. The committee helps organize the Lenten fundraiser for CNEWA. In 2017, they raised $6,200.
“This year, we raised $10,200. It was for the displaced Syrians who were placed in camps. The donation was to build camps of their own. They are being persecuted for the religion we share. It is an obligation to our fellow Christians,” Hankins said.
Since 2013, they have given $38,000 to CNEWA.
We remain deeply grateful to Father Phil and the people of Holy Family for their generous and prayerful support, helping so many of our brothers and sisters in need. Thank you!
6 August 2018
Tags: Syria CNEWA
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.
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians ISIS Dominican Sisters