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Current Issue
Summer, 2014
Volume 40, Number 2
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In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
18 August 2014
Michael J.L. La Civita




CNEWA has been a consistent source of support for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, here shown helping a patient in the Al Jamh-Al Zahrawi hospital in Mosul, Iraq, in 2004.

To alleviate the suffering of some 100,000 homeless Iraqi Christians, Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA, is rushing $75,000 to partners in northern Iraq for urgently needed supplies for infants and children, as well as sanitary facilities for displaced families seeking shelter in U.N.-sponsored camps.

“The response of our donor public to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Iraq has been overwhelming,” Msgr. Kozar said of the CNEWA campaign launched in North America. “These funds represent that generosity, and are an initial installment to help the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic archbishops meet the most basic needs of their homeless flock.”

Ordered by fighters of the extremist group ISIS to convert, pay protection money or die, about 20,000 Christian families fled their villages in the Nineveh Plain for refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this summer. They arrived in Dohuk and Erbil with little more than a change of clothes, leaving behind their homes, belongings, jobs and businesses. Some found shelter in churches, convents, monasteries and schools, but most have found space in schoolyards, open to the searing summer heat and the blazing sun.

Msgr. Kozar said the emergency approach of Catholic Near East Welfare Association will encompass several phases, and will incorporate, as appropriate, CNEWA’s ongoing commitment to the churches of Iraq. This includes, among other activities, support for Catholic hospitals in Baghdad and care for endangered children.

“Diapers and milk for infants and children are not included in the food packages distributed by the United Nations and other relief organizations,” said Msgr. Kozar. “Also, our partners on the ground tell us portable sanitary facilities — toilets and showers — that can accommodate those with special needs are desperately needed. These funds will help secure these basic needs.

“In addition to providing assistance to those hunkered down in northern Iraq, our staff in Amman and Beirut is already working with the local churches in Jordan and Lebanon, respectively, where hundreds of Iraqi Christian families have just arrived, to assess and prioritize needs.

“CNEWA takes seriously its mission to accompany the church — even in flight — and to respond to the needs of all people, especially the poor and marginalized,” Msgr. Kozar said. “And thanks to our generous friends and benefactors, we can build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue and instill hope.”

An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to refugee families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the children, elderly and disabled; and offering formation and supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders.

Click here to join us in this important work.



Tags: CNEWA Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
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18 August 2014
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard the papal flight from Seoul, South Korea, to Rome on 18 August. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis once again took questions from reporters on the airplane en route back to Rome, and he made some news:

Pope Francis said the use of force can be justified to stop “unjust aggressors” such as Islamic State militants in northeastern Iraq, but he declined to endorse U.S. military airstrikes against the militants and said such humanitarian interventions should not be decided on by any single country.

The pope also said he was willing to travel to the war zone if necessary to stop the violence.

Pope Francis made his remarks 18 Aug. during an hourlong inflight news conference on his way back from South Korea.

In response to other questions, the pope acknowledged a need to lighten his work schedule for the sake of his health; said he might make a combined visit to the U.S. and Mexico in 2015; and explained why the Vatican is still studying whether the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero should be beatified as a martyr.

The pope’s words on Iraq came a week after his representative in Baghdad welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision to use military force against Islamic State positions.

Asked about the airstrikes 11 Aug. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio: “This is something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped.”

That statement surprised many because, since the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the Vatican has stressed that military interventions for humanitarian purposes should have the support of the international community.

When a reporter on the plane asked Pope Francis whether he approved of the airstrikes, he replied:

“In these cases where there is unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ’stop’; I don’t say bomb, make war — stop him. The means by which he may be stopped should be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit, but we nevertheless need to remember how many times, using this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor, the powerful nations have dominated other peoples, made a real war of conquest. A single nation cannot judge how to stop this, how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there arose the idea of the United Nations. That is where we should discuss: ‘Is there an unjust aggressor? It seems there is. How do we stop him?’ But only that, nothing more.”

The pope said his recent appeal to the U.N. to “take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway in Iraq” was one of a series of measures he had considered with Vatican officials, including his decision to send Cardinal Fernando Filoni to the region to meet with church and government officials and refugees.

“In the end we said, should it be necessary, when we get back from Korea I can go there,” he said. “At this moment it is not the best thing to do, but I am willing.”

He had much more to say about war, his health, and his upcoming travel schedule. Read it all.



Tags: Pope Francis Iraq War
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14 August 2014
Michel Constantin




An Iraqi Christian refugee rests at St. Joseph’s Church in Ankawa, Iraq, on 8 August. Witnesses claim refugees are dying in the crowded camps. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)

Let me start with the Iraqi Christian refugees in Lebanon. I met with Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji today, who informed me that he has received the past few days around 190 new Chaldean families from Iraq, and it seems the Lebanese authority is granting tourist visas to Iraqis at their arrival at the Beirut airport.

He expects a major influx of Christian Iraqi refugees into Lebanon in the coming few weeks; many of the families who fled their homes are in the process of getting valid passports. Once they have passports, family members in the West secure plane tickets for them to head to Beirut. At their arrival, Bishop Kassarji provides each family (only once) with a food and hygiene package, mattresses and covers. Syriac Catholic Father Hanna Yako confirmed that some 250 Syriac Catholic families have also arrived in Lebanon from Iraq, also carrying tourist visas.

These families need basic items, such food and water, sanitary products, medicines and nursing formula. Those with chronic health problems (diabetes, heart ailments, etc.) need immediate attention.

As for the general situation of the Christians inside Iraq, I spoke with a Chaldean priest who served in a parish near Mosul, and who is visiting Beirut to see his family, who are emigrating West. Father Aram explained to us that the last wave of displacement of Christians in northern Iraq happened as follows:

  • Within the Chaldean Archeparchy of Mosul, which includes Chaldean Catholics of Mosul, Tal Keif and Qaramlesh, more than 2,000 families fled their homes to find refuge in the Kurdish towns of Zakho, Duhoc and Erbil.

  • In the Syriac Catholic Archeparchy of Mosul, which includes Mosul, Qaraqosh, Bartella and Baashiqa, more than 11,000 families were displaced to Kurdish towns. More than 9,000 of these displaced families are Syriac Catholics. The rest belong to Assyrian Church of the East or the Chaldean Catholic or Syriac Orthodox churches.

  • In the Chaldean eparchy of Al Qosh, which includes Al Qosh, Tal Eskef, Batnaya, Baaqoufa and Jambour villages, the ISIS militants have occupied all villages — except Al Qosh. As a matter of fact, ISIS approached the town, but didn’t occupy it yet. At present, Al Qosh is the demarcation line between the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) and ISIS. From this eparchy, 5,000 Chaldean families left for Kurdistan.

Together with the estimated 5,000 families who fled Mosul earlier this summer, some 23,000 Iraqi Christian families, about 120,000 people — have fled the wave of violence on the Nineveh Plain, a cradle of Christianity in Mesopotamia.

Given the large number of refugees and their great needs, our partners have urged us to help them secure up to three months’ supply of infant formula and regular milk for children, which is not included in the food packages distributed by international aid organizations thus far.

Basic medical care is also desperately needed: A team of doctors, who are volunteering their work in coordination with the local church, are pleading for basic medical equipment.

Please help us to help our brothers and sisters in need, and provide them with the basic necessities that can keep them alive.

Visit this page to learn how.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief Chaldean Church
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13 August 2014
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.




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.

Some highlights:

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.



Tags: Syria Iraq Violence against Christians Muslim Islam
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13 August 2014
CNEWA Staff




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.



Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians
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12 August 2014
Michel Constantin




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.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Shiite Yazidi
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11 August 2014
Greg Kandra




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!



Tags: CNEWA Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
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11 August 2014
CNEWA Staff




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)



Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
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8 August 2014
Michel Constantin




A woman and several children who fled from violence in Nineveh province in Iraq, arrive in a covered truck at Sulaimaniya province on 8 August. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

This morning, I spoke with a member of the San Egidio Community in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil, who has been very active in responding to the needs of displaced Christian families.

He informed me that most of the 80,000 Christians displaced from the towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Qaramlesh spent the night in Erbil, outside the churches in the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa.

He also informed me that the Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches are collaborating and there is an effort to create an emergency unit that includes Chaldean Catholics as well.

He mentioned that at present the United Nations has started to build two camps for Christian refugees in Erbil and Dohuc. They will install 5,000 tents in each camp, and will provide enough mattresses and covers, in addition to food rations, for each family.

According to him, the most urgent need is medical care and medication, especially for the chronically ill.

He promised to keep us updated with whatever statistics he can get about the needs and the proper ways to respond to the needs.

***

Visit this page to learn how you can support Christian refugees under siege in Iraq.



Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
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8 August 2014
Antin Sloboda




Displaced people are seen resting on the ground at an area in Duhok, Iraq, on 7 August. (photo: CNS/courtesy Christian Aid Program)

The Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, vice chair of the CNEWA Board of Directors in Canada, has asked Canadians to provide concrete help to Iraq’s Christians, who have been targeted by militants of the Islamic State.

The recent attacks on Christian communities in Mosul and Qaraqosh have been among the most disturbing acts of violence committed against religious minorities on Iraqi soil. “Islamist extremists, intent on eliminating any trace of Christianity, have cast out tens of thousands of Christians, a people with an almost 2,000-year history in the region,” Cardinal Collins said in his letter.

In his call for action, Cardinal Collins urges the Canadian government to play a greater role in crisis resolution and to expand available spaces for Iraqi Christians seeking asylum in Canada.

The Archdiocese of Toronto has been playing a leading role in assisting Iraqi Christians and it is the largest private sponsor of Middle East refugees to Canada. In 2010, Cardinal Collins himself sponsored an Iraqi family resettling in Canada.

Cardinal Collins announced this week that all funds received for the assistance of Iraqi Christians by the archdiocese will be delivered to the Middle East through CNEWA’s network.

The cardinal’s statement is below:

Statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto,
re: Iraqi Christians


Far away from the comfort of our television screens, tablets and newspapers, a tragedy continues to unfold in Iraq. Islamist extremists, intent on eliminating any trace of Christianity, have cast out tens of thousands of Christians, a people with an almost 2,000-year history in the region.

Shortly after I began my mission as Archbishop of Toronto, 7 years ago, the Archbishop of Mosul visited me and shared his hopes for caring for his community. He wanted to build a little school, and we tried to help him. He also told me of what his people were suffering even then. Now Mosul, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, is devoid of any trace of Christianity. Churches have been desecrated and destroyed. Families have been told they must convert to Islam or die.

Scenes unfold daily of residents forced to flee their homes, stripped of their possessions, right down to the crosses around their necks, while others are murdered, martyrs literally laying down their lives for their faith. In 2003, there were an estimated one million Christians in Iraq; some suggest that no more than 150,000 remain today.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that this persecution could be considered a “crime against humanity.” Iraqi Christians have been begging the world to help them. It is fair to question whether the world is listening?

From a distance, we ask ourselves, what to do? It is good that our Prime Minister has condemned this violence in Iraq. We can urge the Canadian government to use its full diplomatic influence to support the demands of the Archbishops of Mosul, led by His Beatitude Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I. These faith leaders have urged the Iraqi national government to:

  • Provide full protection of all religious rights and those of other minorities who wish to remain in their homeland.

  • Offer financial support for displaced families who have lost everything.

  • Compensate victims for damages and losses suffered by Christians, providing immediate shelter and educational facilities to those forced now to live in refugee camps.

In Canada, I appeal to our government to expand available spaces for Iraqi Christians seeking refuge in our country, and to remove any bureaucratic impediments to their reception. The Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, through the generosity of our parishes, has sponsored 820 refugees from the Middle East, many Iraqi Christians, over the past three years. As the largest Canadian private sponsor of refugees from the region, we stand ready to welcome more, with parishes mobilized to facilitate sponsorship and settlement at a moment’s notice. Let us accelerate the process at once.

We would do well to follow the lead of countries, like France, that have announced publicly their intention to provide asylum for those who are persecuted. Canada should take immediate action to provide a safe haven for those forced to flee their homeland. In Iraq, religious freedom is not just being tested; it is being assaulted.

As always, we join in prayer and solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq. In the words of Pope Francis, “Violence will not win over violence. Violence is won over by peace!”

Let us pray for an authentic peace in Iraq and in so many other troubled places in the world.



Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Canada
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