Current Issue
Autumn, 2016
Volume 42, Number 3
26 October 2016
Greg Kandra

This image from 2015 shows a child at a school for the Zabbaleen (garbage pickers) at the Salam Medical and Social Center in Cairo, Egypt. The center is run by the Daughters of Saint Mary Convent. See more images from Egypt and meet some of the country’s remarkable Christians in this photographic essay. (photo: John E. Kozar)

26 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A young Iraqi refugee who fled Mosul, the last major Iraqi city under the control of ISIS, stands between tents at the UN-run Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria’s Hasakeh province,
on 25 October 2016. (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

ISIS sending ‘suicide squads’ to Mosul (CNN) ISIS is sending “suicide squads” from Syria to its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, witnesses have told CNN, as tens of thousands of troops close in on the key city to take it from the militant group’s control. Witnesses said hundreds of new arrivals had streamed into Mosul from the group’s heartland of Raqqa, Syria, in the past two days, describing them as foreign fighters wearing distinct uniforms and suicide belts, and carrying light weapons.

The painful liberation of Iraq’s Christian heartland (The Daily Beast) For over two years the Christians of Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, had been deprived of their place of worship. After ISIS stormed into Mosul in June 2014, the militants quickly turned their sights on the surrounding towns and villages, home to the majority of Iraq’s Christians. By August, they had taken Qaraqosh, forcing its 50,000 inhabitants to abandon the town. But Father Amar’s joy at returning to his native Qaraqosh is tinged with sorrow about the destruction that surrounds him...

Turkey warns one million refugees could spill into Europe because of Mosul battle (The Express) A senior Turkish politician has claimed his country’s armed forces will remain on the ground in the key supply town of Bashiqa, which is located 8 miles from Mosul, as the battle to eliminate ISIS’ presence in Iraq continues. This comes after experts warned jihadis potentially posing as refugees could “unleash attacks on Europe as payback for Mosul...”

Bishops: Eastern Catholic migrants help Church (CNS) Eastern Catholic migrants living in Western Europe help the Catholic Church become more aware of its universality and diversity and, by remaining active in their faith, can help with the new evangelization of the continent, Eastern Catholic bishops said. Meeting in Fatima, Portugal, 20-23 October, the Eastern Catholic bishops of Europe examined “the challenges of the pastoral care of the Eastern Catholic faithful who migrate to Western countries and, often, to places where they find themselves without their own pastors,” according to a statement...

Pope: ‘the only solution to the migration crisis is solidarity’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday called for solidarity with migrants and refugees. Speaking to the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly General Audience, the Pope reflected on two particular corporal works of mercy — welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked — and said that the growing numbers of refugees fleeing war, famine and dire poverty calls us to welcome and care for these brothers and sisters...

Queen visits refugee camp in Jordan (Daily Mail) Queen Mathilde of Belgium has admitted she’s expecting an ‘intense and emotional’ few days as she arrived in Jordan to begin a humanitarian visit. The monarch, 43, began her trip to the Middle East by visiting Jordan’s biggest refugee camp Al Zaatari in Mafraq near the Syrian border, which is home to 80,000 people...

25 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, serves the thousands of displaced people who fled ISIS. He is calling for both prayers and planning to help support those who are suffering in his homeland, as they look to a future after ISIS. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

It is never easy being a bishop and tending to a large and diverse flock. The mission is made even more challenging if you are a bishop in a time of war, displacement and persecution.

That is the story of Iraq’s Archbishop Bashar Warda. The Chaldean Catholic archbishop visited our offices this week and his presence served to remind us of the heroic work so many men and women are undertaking, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.

The past two years have been tumultuous. He described in 2015 some of what his people were facing:

Archbishop Warda said that 620 families were initially housed on the grounds of the cathedral in Erbil where he lived.

“People come and tell their stories of persecution and how they were really terrified, having to walk eight to 10 hours during the night,” Archbishop Warda said. “In the end, they would tell you, ‘Thank God we are alive. Nushkur Allah. We thank God for everything.’ That’s the phrase they end with. That’s strengthening, in a way...

...He tried to encourage the persecuted Christians whom he had welcomed to Erbil, within his heart he would frequently “quarrel with God.”

“I don’t understand what he is doing when I look at what has happened in the region,” Archbishop Warda said. “I quarrel with him every day.”

However, the arguments take place within his intimate relationship with God, one that, with the help of grace, withstands even the previously unimaginable challenges to his faith that he has faced over the past year.

“Before going to sleep, I usually hand all my crises, wishes, thoughts and sadness to him, so I can at least have some rest,” Archbishop Warda said. “The next day, I usually wake up with his providence that I would never dream about.”

This week, visiting New York, he reflected on all that had happened and spoke about looking beyond persecution, and planning for the future:

“We can’t be a church that complains all the time about persecution,” he said. “Persecution started on Good Friday. It’s not a new event for being a Christian. It started there and continues. It’s not the first experience, not the only experience. It’s happened in different parts of the world, and churches were able to emerge stronger than before. Aid is needed. We are going to face a new challenge with liberating Mosul, with convincing families to go back again. How are we going to convince them to go back to their villages? It needs a plan. We need some good, concrete plans.”

And he encouraged everyone to raise awareness about what is happening back in his homeland:

“In my visit here,” he explained, “Americans have no idea what is going on there. Raising awareness is so important. The roots of the Christians are in the Middle East. We have to keep these roots alive. Even if they are small and tiny roots, we have to work to keep them alive so they can give us more vitality. So we need to raise awareness, we need to pray for Christians.”

Pray for the people in Erbil and throughout the region. At this moment, as Iraqi soldiers launch their offensive to try and retake Mosul from ISIS, there are growing concerns about what could become a massive humanitarian crisis. To lend your support to these people in their moment of need, visit this page.

25 October 2016
Greg Kandra

The video above shows — for the first time in two years — the ringing of church bells in the city of Bartella in Iraq. ISIS overtook the city in 2014 and forced all Christians to flee. Iraqi soldiers are now closing in on Mosul as part of an offensive attempting to retake the city from ISIS.
(video: Rome Reports)

ISIS resorts to guerilla tactics as troops approach Mosul (CBS News) The United States says progress will slow down as the American-backed Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul from ISIS draws closer to the city. U.S. officials say an area larger than New York City has already been retaken from ISIS. Kurdish forces are still clearing Bashiqa, eight miles northeast of Mosul, reports CBS News correspondent Holly Williams. They’re up against the usual guerrilla tactics that are being used by ISIS: homemade explosives, networks of tunnels and suicide bombers...

Humanitarian corridors in Aleppo still open (AP) Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it was keeping humanitarian corridors out of Syria’s Aleppo open following accusations by the U.N. humanitarian chief that warring parties were obstructing medical evacuations from the eastern, rebel-held districts of the city...

Syrian refugee women forge new lives in Jordan (The Los Angeles Times) According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, women head 66,000 — or around percent — of the 188,000 Syrian refugee families registered with the agency in Jordan. Widowed, divorced or abandoned by their husbands, these women have become their families’ sole breadwinners, roles traditionally held in Syrian society by men...

Vatican sends message to Hindus for Diwali (Vatican Radio) The President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has sent a Message to Hindus for the Feast of Deepavali (Diwali), entitled Christians and Hindus: Promoting hope among families...

Welcome to Gaza’s first deer farm (Al Monitor) Palestinians have always raised animals such as goats and camels, but one man has now taken up a new activity that is the first of its kind in the Gaza Strip — deer farming...

24 October 2016
Greg Kandra

CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil to CNEWA’s New York offices. (photo: CNEWA)

CNEWA was privileged to welcome to our New York offices on Monday Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. The Chaldean Catholic archbishop is visiting several cities in the United States — but his thoughts and prayers right now are with his flock back home, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are fighting to free Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from ISIS.

Welcomed to our offices by CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, the archbishop met with CNEWA’s staff to outline the situation that displaced Iraqis are confronting.

Last week, speaking to Catholic News Service, he explained that many are living in relative safety. The archbishop said troops would not find any Christians in and around Mosul, because they fled in 2014, when Islamic State militants gave them a choice to convert to Islam, pay the Islamic jizya tax or be killed.

Many of those Christians fled to Erbil, where the church has been caring for them. The Erbil archdiocese is providing housing to more than 10,000 internally displaced families, but many more live in trailers or open buildings.

Today, in his visit to CNEWA, he spoke compellingly of the great success the church has had in creating schools and educating young people. But he also said more work needs to be done to educate the rest of the world. Many Christians he has met in the United States remain unaware of what their brothers and sisters in the Middle East are going through.

“In my visit here,” he explained, “Americans have no idea what is going on there. Raising awareness is so important. The roots of the Christians is in the Middle East. We have to keep these roots alive. Even if they are small and tiny roots, we have to work to keep them alive so they can give us more vitality. So we need to raise awareness, we need to pray for Christians.”

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil visited CNEWA on Monday and spoke of the plight of Christians in his country. (photo: CNEWA)

But, he said, that is only the beginning. Too often, he said, people tend to dwell only on the persecution Christians are facing.

“We can’t be a church that complains all the time about persecution,” he said. “Persecution started on Good Friday. It’s not a new event for being a Christian. It started there and continues. It’s not the first experience, not the only experience. It’s happened in different parts of the world, and churches were able to emerge stronger than before. Aid is needed. We are going to face a new challenge with liberating Mosul, with convincing families to go back again. How are we going to convince them to go back to their villages? It needs a plan. We need some good, concrete plans.”

Speaking to CNS, the archbishop elaborated.

Church people work “to provide the necessary needs — shelter, education, health, food packages — and be with them, and try to comfort them in their material needs and their spiritual and pastoral needs,” the archbishop said. The people need “social intervention and political intervention, economic intervention and, most importantly, how we are going to reconcile all those divided groups which will remain, and they've been called to live together?”

The Christians from the region are the original owners of the land, he said. Many have said their neighbors turned against them as ISIS approached.

“We have lived with Islam for 1,400 years. There was a trust in us, and we have to build on this trust — initiatives for the peaceful future,” he told CNS. “We need the outside world to help us” start such initiatives, but they must come from within, because people are suspicious of outsiders.

Archbishop Warda spoke of celebrating the Divine Liturgy with the displaced, calling it “Eucharist in the fullest sense.”

“Everyone has given something valuable and painful to remain Christian,” he said.

Celebrating the liturgy is “different because you are with a suffering people, with persecuted people who made the right choice — Christ — so here we have a church which is alive. Yes, there are faces tired of what’s happening, being persecuted, but every response you get from the community during Mass is full of faith. And you could sense that they made the right choice, to stay Christians and to suffer for their faith,” he said. It adds "a special joy for the Mass.”

CNS produced the video below, in which the archbishop talks about the challenges confronting Christians in his part of the world.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church

24 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A family prepares a meal in Trivandrum, India. To learn more about life Kerala’s capital, check out Tried and True Traditions of Kerala’s Christians in the July-August 2001 edition of the magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)

24 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A boy raises his hand with a peace sign on 21 October after returning to his village that was liberated from ISIS militants near Mosul, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudaini, Reuters)

Kurdish forces besiege town of Bashiqa (BBC) Kurdish forces taking part in the offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS) militants are besieging a key town to the north. Peshmerga fighters have surrounded Bashiqa, which lies on a crucial supply route only 12km (8 miles) from Mosul, on three sides, a commander said. But the threat of suicide bomb attacks means they are advancing with caution...

UNICEF says up to 1.5 million may be affected by Mosul offensive ( Thousands of people who have fled the Mosul area, as the military offensive to retake the northern Iraqi city gathers pace, have been on the road for days. In the background is a stark, apocalyptic landscape, with fumes billowing into the air from oil fields set alight by the retreating militants. The United Nations has said several thousand people have fled areas around Mosul since the military operation began...

Pope expresses shock over cruelty waged against innocent Iraqis (CNS) As a military operation in northern Iraq fights to wrest control of areas held by retaliating Islamic State forces, Pope Francis criticized the “cruelty” and heinous violence waged against innocent civilians. Speaking to visitors in St. Peter’s Square on 23 October for the Angelus prayer, the Pope said, “In these dramatic hours, I am close to the entire population of Iraq, especially that of the city of Mosul.” He invited people to pray with him, asking that “Iraq, while gravely stricken, might be both strong and firm in the hope of moving toward a future of security, reconciliation and peace...”

More displaced people arrive at camps as Battle of Mosul nears (Fides) While the Kurdish peshmerga are now at the gates of Mosul and Isis prepares its last resistance in Iraq’s second city, the arrival of displaced people in camps in the southern areas of the governorate of Nineveh continues...

Christian philosophers meet in India (Fides) “We are proud to live in a country that is sovereign, secular, a democratic republic, with a Constitution that protects the fundamental rights of its citizens. The Indian tradition of plurality and diplomacy, its scientific progress and huge natural and human resources, are signs of its immense potential,” says the Association of Christian Philosophers of India, who met in recent days in Ranchi for their annual seminar...

20 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Sister Lovely Kattumattam is one of the heroic Nirmala Dasi Sisters serving the poor outside Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Many of the CNEWA heroes we’ve met are people who feel an especially close connection to the suffering people they serve. Take, for example, Sister Lovely Kattumattam, a Nirmala Dasi Sister who works among the poor near Mumbai. A few years ago we profiled these “Slumdog Sisters,” and described their mission:

In 1971, Syro–Malabar Catholic Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam of Trichur, Kerala, founded the Society of Nirmala Dasi Sisters [S.N.D.S.] with a mission to care for society’s destitute, abandoned and marginalized. Today, its 265 sisters operate more than 30 homes, centers and clinics that serve impoverished communities, orphaned children, the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled, single mothers and their children, substance abusers, persons with H.I.V./AIDS and persons affected by Hansen’s disease. Though the sisters primarily work in Kerala, they also run facilities in other states in India as well as overseas, in Hungary and Kenya.

In 1989, Mumbai’s Syro–Malabar church leaders invited the Nirmala Dasi Sisters to minister and provide basic social services to the impoverished residents of Dharavi.

“They had great experience in this field and a very good name,” explains Father Francis Eluvathingal, chancellor of the Mumbai–based Eparchy of Kalyan. “So they were chosen for this work by the eparchy.”

Since their arrival in Dharavi, the Nirmala Dasi Sisters have disappointed no one, quickly becoming leaders within the local church and a lifeline for Dharavi’s residents.

...“It’s a blessing from the Lord to work with the poor and needy,” explains Sister Lovely Kattumattam, who worked in Dharavi for seven years. She now works at a new Syro–Malabar Catholic social service facility in a different Mumbai suburb.

“People in Dharavi are not well mannered or cultured. They have their disagreements and fights. But the sisters work for peace, fellowship and love. We live there in the same simple facilities. We have a happy life despite shortages and the respect of the community because we’ve opted to live without.”

Reflecting on her life and ministry, she summed up her philosophy:

“It’s total chaos in Dharavi,” says Sister Lovely, thinking back on her seven years in the impoverished neighborhood. “But wherever we work, we work for the Lord.”

Read more about heroic sisters like the aptly-named Sister Lovely here. And learn more about their founder, Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam, another CNEWA hero, here.

20 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A woman in Ethiopia waits for a water truck to arrive. Ethiopia has suffered its worst drought in decades, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. To learn more, read When Rain Fails in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

20 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Women who recently fled the Islamic State's stronghold of Hawija receive donated food in Iraq’s Debaga camp, outside Erbil, on 19 October. (photo: CNS /Zohra Bensemra, Reuters)

Mosul operation moving faster than expected (CNN) The operation to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul after more than two years of ISIS rule is going faster than expected, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday, as a CNN analysis of the battlefield showed forces have now captured at least 100 square kilometers [about 38 miles] of territory. The sweeping gains come as Peshmerga fighters opened a new front from the north, liberating several villages from ISIS control some 20 kilometers [12 miles] from the city...

Chaldean patriarch calls for unity in Iraq (Vatican Radio) As Iraqi troops move on Mosul to liberate the strategic city from the so-called Islamic State, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, has called for peace and national unity in Iraq...

In Turkey, Iraqi Christians live in limbo (CNS) Yako Hanna, 36, always keeps an eye on his phone waiting for a call that would change his life. “Anytime it rings, you think it is the U.N., so you have to be careful. Even if you go to the bathroom, you have to take your mobile with you,” Hanna said, referring to the call he might receive from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, which is handling his resettlement application to Australia, where he has relatives. Hanna is one of the thousands of Iraqi Christians that are in Turkey waiting, from a few months to a few years, for an answer to their resettlement applications to Western countries...

Talks move ahead on Ukraine (Reuters) Germany and France pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend a pause in air strikes in Syria and halt the “criminal” bombardment of civilians, but said four-way talks aimed at ending violence in eastern Ukraine made some progress. “We are talking here about criminal activities, about crimes against the civilians,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after what she described as a difficult discussion with Putin about the crisis in Syria...

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