6 August 2018
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.
3 July 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians ISIS Dominican Sisters
Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during a meeting in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on 26 May. The men will meet again this weekend in Bari, Italy. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis will be in Bari, Italy, this weekend to pray for peace in the Middle East — and the trip will have a strong ecumenical theme.
From Catholic News Agency:
Taking place on 7 July, the day of prayer and reflection will include leaders of Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, and will have an “authentically ecumenical breath,” Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari-Bitonto told Vatican News.
He said the day’s events will “combine the ecumenical vision of the Christian Churches and [give] particular attention to the Middle East, to invoke peace, but also to be close to our Christian brothers, who live in suffering.”
Pope Francis announced 25 April he would hold the day primarily for “prayer and reflection on the dramatic situation of the Middle East which afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith.”
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, has confirmed he will be in attendance, as will Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who leads the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Which other patriarchs will attend has not yet been confirmed.
During his Angelus address 1 July, Pope Francis said he and the other Christian leaders in Bari “will implore with one voice: ‘Peace be upon you,’” as it says in Psalm 122. “I ask everyone to accompany with prayer this pilgrimage of peace and unity,” he said.
Bari is often called the “porta d’Oriente” or the “Eastern Gate” because of its connection to both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox through the relics of St. Nicholas, venerated by members of both Churches.
Historically, many Eastern Churches have been present in the city, Archbishop Cacucci said, but an ecumenical culture was imprinted upon it most strongly after the Second Vatican Council, when the archbishop of the time opened the crypt of the Basilica of St. Nicholas to the Orthodox by creating a small chapel dedicated to them.
For more on St. Nicholas, read Bari’s Borrowed Wonder Worker from the July-August 1997 edition of our magazine, which notes:
[The popularity of St. Nicholas] rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
21 November 2017
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
The U.S. bishops have designated Sunday, 26 November, as a day of prayer for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Watch the video above for more details. (video: U.S.C.C.B./YouTube)
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated this Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, as a day of prayer for persecuted Christians, and the bishops have marked next week, 26 November to 2 December, as a time to raise awareness about the challenges our suffering brothers and sisters around the world are facing.
As the U.S.C.C.B. notes:
The Christian presence in the Holy Lands traces its roots to the earliest days of Christianity. These small, diverse communities have historically contributed to the vibrant social fabric of their societies in the fields of science, medicine, and philosophy. Their fraternity with the diversity of Churches and other religious groups helps to foster greater interreligious dialogue, unity, and peace in the Middle East.
In the midst of the turbulence in the Middle East, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expresses solidarity with Christians and all those who suffer from the conflict and persecution in the region. The Church stands at the service of all people in the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims.
CNEWA is proud to be a part of this initiative and to offer our resources to help educate the public about this urgent issue.
The U.S.C.C.B. website has a wealth of material—including prayer cards, logos, homily notes and intercessions— for parishes to use in the days ahead.
We encourage you to explore all that CNEWA has to offer as well, with some of the most comprehensive journalism and reporting on this issue to be found anywhere:
In Advent of 2014, Pope Francis sent a letter to Christians in the Middle East. As we near the season of Advent once again, and look with hope to the coming of Christ, his words today have even greater resonance:
Every day I follow the new reports of the enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East. I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, the starving and those facing the prospect of a hard winter without an adequate shelter. This suffering cries out to God and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible. I want to express to all of you my personal closeness and solidarity, as well as that of the whole Church, and to offer you a word of consolation and hope.
Dear brothers and sisters who courageously bear witness to Jesus in the land blessed by the Lord, our consolation and our hope is Christ himself. I encourage you, then, to remain close to him, like branches on the vine, in the certainty that no tribulation, distress or persecution can separate us from him (cf. Rom 8:35). May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you!
Please join us in prayer this Sunday, to express what the bishops have called our “solidarity in suffering,” and pray for an end to persecution.
26 October 2016
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Middle East U.S.C.C.B.
Displaced Iraqi Christians take part in celebrations on 18 October 2016 in Erbil, to mark the liberation of Qaraqosh, which had been Iraq’s largest Christian town before it was overrun by ISIS in August 2014. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
As Iraqi soldiers intensify their offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS, we are getting scattered reports from local clergy, describing scenes of great fear — but also tremendous hope.
The following is part of an email sent by Bishop Yousif Mirkius, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Suleimaniyah. He described what happened last Thursday night, 20 October, when jihadists from ISIS, trying to escape security forces, sought shelter in local residences in Kirkuk, including the Dominican sisters’ convent and houses rented by the bishop to house immigrant students. The students, he writes, are
from all faiths: Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and Mandaeans, numbering about 500 in all. As he explains, 71 students were in the area that night when ISIS burst in. They were under the responsibility of Mr. Imad Matti, who described what happened:
The young girls realized the jihadists were invading at 3 in the morning on Friday. These terrorists had climbed the walls of the houses and reached the garden shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The students took photos of them and noticed that they were not only armed but also equipped with explosive belts around their waists. The security forces were aware of the seriousness of the situation and these girls had to remain 24 hours without electricity — trembling, in total fear. At that moment, heavy fighting took place. The terrorists would not surrender. So a plan was adopted to make everything possible to save the 14 students in the first house. The security forces succeeded in saving them despite their continuous gunfire during the whole operation.
At 2 a.m., we proceeded to rescue the seven students in the second house. It was the riskiest operation, as four terrorists were inside the house eating and drinking while the students were hidden under their beds. These terrorists must have been blinded by the Lord, because at no time did they find them. I therefore took the risk to ask them to come out of their hiding place, to run toward the wall at the back of the house. Nine of the emergency forces demonstrated exceptional courage and bravery. They were more than ready to give their lives to save these girls. It was dark and despite intense firing, the seven students were rescued.
As for the third group of students, the rescue operation took place at 5 a.m. on Saturday thanks to the “Suat” forces from Suleimaniyah. There were 30 students in that house. I must admit that I admired their courage and determination as the girls remained calm and followed very precisely all the orders and instructions that were given to them during these operations.
After this intervention, the four terrorists blew themselves up in the students’ house.
The seven students had remained under their beds 18 hours without moving and without letting their presence be detected. They were transferred to Erbil, where they are recovering and reassuring their families.
We do hope they will continue their studies with even more motivation than ever, with the help of the Chaldean diocese who has committed to finance their studies despite all the difficulties and challenges we are facing.
Bishop Yousif concluded: “We thank God for this grace and miracles. We also pray for all the martyrs, the wounded and victims as well as for all those who suffered damage and losses.”
Also this week, we received this jubilant, poetic communication from Basilios Georges Casmoussa, patriarchal auxiliary and Syriac Catholic archbishop emeritus of Mosul. He described the great joy surrounding the liberation of Qaraqosh, a Christian stronghold in the Nineveh Plain that had been emptied of Christians after the invasion of ISIS in 2014:
So, Qaraqosh is liberated!
Cry of joy, peace and hope for its children and all its friends over the world!
Message of thanksgiving to God. …
Message of gratitude to the courageous fighters of the Iraqi army, who came from all regions of Iraq, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis … together.
Who, at the dawn of 22 of Oct 2016, penetrated, with their Iraqi flag, the deserted city. …
The image of this valiant soldier, child of Qaraqosh, moved by the emotion, when he put his foot on the ground of his silent city, after a so long an absence, how he sprinkled his head and face by its dust, as a sweet balsam. …
Or, this other, with his weapon on his shoulder, kissing the entrance door of his childhood church. …
Or, this group of officers and soldiers, standing in front of the central altar, broken by Daesh [ISIS], and praying to the Virgin Mary “Shlama ellakh Maryam” in his maternal language, the soureth, an Aramaic idiom coming from the time of Christ. …
Or this young priest ringing the bell of the church of Bartella, another Christian city liberated in the Plain of Nineveh, yesterday. …
These views shall remain forever in the collective memory.
My message is a message of gratitude, also, to Kurdistan, who welcomed us when we were displaced, and to all those who came to help us by different ways. …
My message is a message of gratitude to all our friends, those unknown men and women over the world, who supported us by their solidarity, since the beginning of our exodus until today, in many ways: humanitarian aid, schools’ construction, churches, houses, medical centers, repeated visits of personalities coming from Europe, America and Australia.
Friends, as unknown soldiers, you made us feel we are not forgotten, we are not alone, we are beloved and recognized.
You have defended our cause. …
You, already, are preparing new projects to support us in our efforts of reconstruction. Be accompanied by our gratefulness and prayers:
To start the chapter of the reconstruction — the reconstruction of living together, with harmony and solidarity between different Christian denominations, and Muslim neighbors, Kurds, Arabs, Shabaks, Yazidis, Kakais, Mandaeans. …
In mutual respect, the recognition of diversity and rights. …
Consider all of them as citizens with the same rank, same rights, same duties.
1 July 2015
Tags: Iraq Iraqi
This CNEWA-supported dispensary in Erbil, Iraq, helps meet the medical needs of
displaced Iraqis. (photo: CNEWA)
After the ISIS attack on Mosul and the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq — displacing thousands of Christians and Yazidis, forcing them into camps all over the Kurdish area of Erbil, Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah and Zakho — there was an urgent need to intervene and provide medical support and attention to these people.
In September, just three weeks after the displacement, the situation was miserable. CNEWA representatives who visited the region were shocked at what they saw, especially when it came to the medical care of the refugees. The only existing dispensary was a tent placed on the side of a street, with families waiting in line outside under the sun to get their medicine or their injections. This terrible situation moved CNEWA to install a prefab dispensary in Erbil, which has been successful through the support of its local partners.
The Dohuk dispensary consists of ten rooms, including a waiting room, two quick checkup rooms, two doctors’ rooms, a lab, two small operating rooms, a pharmacy and a storage. All are connected by a middle corridor. The building is a prefab steel structure. The rooms are properly air conditioned and furnished.
A dentist cares for a patient in the new Erbil dispensary. (photo: CNEWA)
In early May, the dispensary received around 55 patients per day in addition to about 20 chronic patients; this adds up to about 420 patients per week, and that number is expected to increase to around 700 patients per week. The dispensary is under the supervision of a committee representing all communities — Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox. It is managed and operated by the Rev. Aphrem Philippos, representing the committee; two sisters from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, who have great experience in similar projects; and a doctor.
On the first week of May, the dispensary got the blessing of both Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and Msgr. John Kozar, who visited the facility as part of a pastoral visit.
Cardinal Sandri greets the staff at the dispensary. (photo: John E. Kozar)
14 April 2015
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees Relief
The president of CNEWA, Msgr. John E. Kozar, has authorized the immediate release of $686,000 to assist the Christian community in the Middle East as part of CNEWA’s ongoing commitment to the region’s churches and their humanitarian and pastoral initiatives.
The aid targets those most in need, he stated, and will be administered by CNEWA’s partners on the ground. The funds represent a portion of CNEWA’s allocation from the voluntary collection taken up last autumn in dioceses across the United States. Support includes:
$100,000 to renovate and furnish church structures damaged during anti-Christian riots in Egypt in August 2013.
$15,000 to help the Daughters of the Sacred Heart in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, run a home for the care of elderly and disabled women, many of them displaced by ISIS.
$3,000 to support the Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena for the formation of novices. The sisters have lost their mother house in Mosul and many convents in northern Iraq. From their exile in Erbil, they are CNEWA’s primary partners in caring for the displaced.
$150,000 to assist parishes in Jordan hosting Iraqi Christian refugee families. Living in parish community centers, families delineate space with temporary dividers, and receive bedding, clothing, food and a caring ear from the parish community.
$50,000 to support the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan. Staffed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, the sisters serve impoverished refugee expectant mothers, Muslim and Christian, an increasing number of whom are Iraqi and Syrian.
$50,000 to help the Pontifical Mission Community Center in Amman, Jordan, provide counseling, tutorial services, catechesis and English classes to marginalized populations, especially Syrian and Iraqi Christian families. The center is administered by the Teresians, an international Catholic lay association.
$50,000 to provide additional support to the Italian Hospital in Amman for its treatment of refugees and the poor. The hospital is administered by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, an Iraqi religious community.
$75,000 to assist religious sisters in Lebanon with their outreach to poor Lebanese nationals. The influx of more than a million Syrian and Iraqi refugees has devastated the poor of Lebanon, who have grown poorer with the loss of income and housing. Funds provide food, medicines, counseling services and other forms of assistance.
$93,000 to help Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza renovate its community center, which provided families a refuge during the aerial bombing of Gaza last summer. The Latin parish is the only Catholic church in the Gaza Strip. It serves the entire community, sponsoring a school, hosting a home for children with special needs run by the Missionaries of Charity, and offering other social services, such as post-traumatic stress disorder counseling.
$100,000 to provide medical care for impoverished families in Syria through CNEWA’s partners on the ground — religious communities of men and women.
Samir and Nevine Deshto, Iraqi Christian refugees, stand with their newborn daughter in the Italian Hospital in Amman. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Msgr. Kozar noted that portions of this disbursement supplement the agency’s commitment of more than $6.8 million to the peoples and churches of the Middle East in 2015. CNEWA’s Middle East program includes an array of aid from emergency relief for displaced Iraqi Christian families and support for formation programs for seminarians in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon to health care and schooling initiatives in Syria and Palestine.
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. CNEWA is a registered charity in Canada and in the United States by the State of New York. All contributions are tax deductible and tax receipts are issued. In the United States, donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org; by phone at 800.442.6392; or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195. In Canada, visit www.cnewa.ca; write a cheque to CNEWA Canada and send to 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6K9; or call toll-free at 1-866-322-4441.
3 March 2015
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Middle East Relief Eastern Churches
A displaced Syrian girl finds temporary shelter at a school in Damascus, Syria, on 23 February. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)
Syrian families who have fled their homes after the Islamic State raided their villages are receiving aid from CNEWA.
Catholic News Service interviewed Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, who coordinates our regional emergency relief programs:
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, upon learning about the Islamic State attacks, contacted Bishop Aprim Nathniel of the Assyrian Church of the East in Hassake, with whom the agency had collaborated on previous projects, said Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon.
“What we learned from Bishop [Aprim] is that so far, there are around 900 families that have been displaced from around 18 villages out of 35,” Mr. Constantin told Catholic News Service on 27 February from Beirut. “Another 200 families are expected to come as soon as the fighting cools down a little bit.”
He said most of the 900 displaced families have been temporarily settled in homes in Hassake abandoned by fellow Christians — Assyrians, Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox — who had earlier fled out of fear because Islamic State groups were very close.
“There were many individual houses that were vacant, so the bishop took the initiative to open these houses, knowing that nobody would mind,” Mr. Constantin said. Although the homes are furnished, the displaced families were in urgent need of food, heating fuel, gas for cooking and medication.
“It’s very important to reach out to them with something very basic to sustain them at least for a couple of weeks,” he said. As a first step, CNEWA arranged to send 900 food packages, enough for each family for that initial period.
However, delivering aid or money to Syria is complicated.
“It’s a very long process to buy food from the outside and send it to Syria. It’s not feasible, it takes too much time,” Mr. Constantin explained. Furthermore, transporting goods is perilous because there are daily raids by Islamic State along the only road that links Hassake to Qamishli.
Under such circumstances, he says it is more efficient to send money to purchase whatever is available locally, but due to the conflict, there is no banking system working in Hassake to send funds via bank transfer.
He said CNEWA was working with an Iraqi aid agency able to get the funds into Syria.
“Without this contact in Iraq we could not be so efficient,” he said.
As a first step, CNEWA sent around $36,000 to buy 900 food packages for $40 each. The agency determined from its work in Syria that $40 can sustain a family of five with food for about two weeks.
“It’s a top priority for us to help these people at this moment and then we can coordinate with other partners to see how more grants, more funding can be conveyed to them,” he added.
CNS has more details.
Meantime, the need continues to be urgent. Please keep these refugees and all who are seeking to help them in your prayers. And to learn how you can help, visit this link.
27 February 2015
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA Relief
A young girl celebrates the Divine Liturgy in the village of Al Qaa in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, currently home to many Syrian refugees. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
The Christians of Syria need us to take direct action. The families who have escaped need food to eat. A warm place to sleep. Medical care to ease their pain. Trauma counseling to soothe emotional wounds that may never heal.
We wish we could stop the violence, but we know we can help these suffering Christians heal. With their world destroyed, they’re desperate for any small patch of peace. A helping hand. So let’s reach out to them today, together.
Click here to take direct action. Thank you, and God bless you.
24 February 2015
Tags: Syria Refugees Middle East Christians Relief
(image: Tele Lumiere)
More than 90 Syrian Christians, including women and children, have been captured by ISIS militants near the northeastern Syrian city of Hassake.
A number of accounts from Syria report heavy fighting that began over the weekend as ISIS attacked Christian villages along the Khabur River. The river flows into Hassake, a city of 188,000 people, many of whom are Assyro-Chaldean and Armenian Christians.
Hassake is now cut off.
A “mass exodus of people took place [to] Hassake” writes Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana in an email to aid partners, including CNEWA. Church of the East “Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel told me the church and community hall are overloaded with people.”
Syria Daily reports that “the jihadists struck along the Khabur River, moving southeast from Tal Shamiran all the way to Tal Hurmiz. Claims are circulating that churches were burned and villagers were kidnapped, with women and children separated from the men as the Islamic State seeks a prisoner exchange with local Kurdish groups.”
An ethnically diverse region, northeastern Syria is home to large numbers of ethnic Kurds, most of whom are Sunni Muslims, and Assyro-Chaldean and Armenian Christians. Many of the Christians are descendants of those who survived previous massacres. These include the genocidal murder of the Christian community in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and the Simele Massacre of 1933, in which the Iraqi army systematically targeted northern Iraq’s Assyro-Chaldean Christians, perhaps murdering as many as 3,000 people.
“Those villages,” writes Archimandrite Youkhana of the 35 Syrian communities now under siege by ISIS, “were started by Assyrians who fled the massacre of August 1933. So far, they never use the term ‘village’ or ‘town’ for their settlements … [but] insist to say ‘camps’ to reflect the fact that they were settled temporarily.”
The villagers, he notes, “hope to one day return to Iraq.”
At present, writes CNEWA’s Michel Constantin, “all roads leading to Hassake are blocked by so-called Islamic State militants, and the only way to respond to the needs of the refugees is through Turkey or northern Iraq.
“We are establishing communication now to explore any possibilities of providing emergency relief to these new refugees.”
(image: Tele Lumiere)
1 December 2014
Tags: Syria Violence against Christians Chaldean Church Assyrian Church Church of the East
A sister walks among families in the basement of an unfinished building in Erbil now used as a shelter for displaced Christians. (photo: Don Duncan)
We recently received the following urgent appeal from Sister Maria Hanna, prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq:
After four months of exile there are no signs of hope that the situation here in Iraq will be resolved peacefully. Unable to think or make decisions, everything is vague and we feel as if we have been living a nightmare. Christianity in Iraq is bleeding; so many families have left, and many are leaving to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, preparing themselves for second immigration and an uncertain future. We do not know how long these families will be able to tolerate the burden and survive financially.
The conditions remain the same for those of us in Iraq. Many still are forced to stay in unfinished buildings on construction sites. In one place, a mall has been remodeled to accommodate families, with the hall divided merely with partitions. Although they are better than tents, they resemble dark, damp cages with no ventilation. Most difficult of all is the lack of privacy.
There have been some attempts to provide containers and rent houses and flats, but this is not enough, as the number of displaced people increases each day. Many come from cold, mountainous places. Psychologically, people are tired, worried, confused and irritated — who would blame them? They are jobless, their children do not attend school and young people are still waiting to start their academic year. Some tried to register at Kurdish universities, but they were not accepted. All this is causing tremendous strain on the families, and the result is abuse and relationships that are unhealthy. The problems are totally overwhelming, and it seems as if our efforts are amounting to nothing.
People have been stripped of their dignity and unjustly deprived of all their money and possessions. What money people do have cannot be withdrawn from banks as the central government has frozen their accounts. Moreover, some people desperately look for work, ready to labor for minimum wage.
Despite this, things would be much worse if it were not for the aid we have received from you and the many benefactors who have contributed what they can.
Thank you. Indeed, we are so grateful to you, and we have tried to help as many people as we can with these donations. Our focus has not been on the refugee centers and camps only, as refugees at these centers are supported by the organization and the church. Rather we are trying to help those families who rent houses, but cannot support themselves. So we help them by providing bedding and clothing.
As for our community, we are extremely exhausted with concern for the family and friends we have who are unjustly forced to leave us. Everyday we hope that tomorrow will be better, but our tomorrows seem to bring only more tears and hardship. “Out of the depths we cry to thee, O Lord! When will you rescue us?”
We desperately count on your prayers, and we need you carry us to Jesus like the men who brought the paralytic to Jesus.
God bless you,
Sr. Maria Hanna, O.P.
Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena — Iraq
This comes at an especially difficult time in the region, amid reports today that the United Nations is cutting food aid to refugees:
A lack of funds has forced the U.N. World Food Program to stop providing food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, the agency said on Monday.
“Without WFP vouchers, many families will go hungry. For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating,” said WFP, which needs $64 million to support the refugees for the rest of December.
Please visit our giving page to help our brothers and sisters during this hour of great need. Please remember them in your prayers.
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees Relief