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24 May 2016
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets Sister Diana Momeka on a visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, in northern Iraq, last year. (photo: CNEWA)
Last year, a tiny powerhouse made headlines for her passionate witness on behalf of the suffering people of Iraq:
The first thing that struck me about the veiled woman in white standing in our reception area was: “She’s so little.” The petite Dominican sister with the piercing eyes and dark hair didn’t look like someone who would shake the world.
But I soon learned that her passion and her message are, in fact, earth shaking. Small wonder that this small wonder has made some of the most powerful people in world capitals sit up and take notice.
Sister Diana Momeka left Iraq a few weeks ago to visit the United States; one of her most important stops was Capitol Hill, where she spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Last night, she braved a thunderstorm to drive from Washington to New York, to visit with several of us this morning at the offices of CNEWA. Beyond a reunion between old friends and collaborators — CNEWA has sponsored the work of her congregation for many years — this meeting held a deeper and more poignant purpose. She wanted to share her message about the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees — men, women and children, young and old, healthy and infirm — who fled their homes last year to escape ISIS, and settled in whatever housing they could find in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
It has been a harrowing time — and the Iraqi families aren’t the only ones suffering. Sister Diana and dozens of other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their convent and also settled in Erbil, where they are working tirelessly to help people who sometimes feel helpless.
“My main message,” she told those of us gathered in the board room, “is to get human dignity to people there, in Iraq.” Her words were measured and her focus, laser sharp.
“People,” she continued, “have been humiliated. They are living in slums. These people are human beings with great love, great faith. But when you lose your home, your heritage, your culture, you lose your dignity. When you live in a container, in a tent, you don’t have any privacy, this is not a real human life to live. My hope is to find a way to give dignity back.”
We chronicled the remarkable work she and her order have undertaken in the pages of our magazine:
“People came with fever, dehydration, diarrhea,” says Sister Diana. “They were sleeping on the ground with no tents in the beginning. After some days they got tents, but there was no clean water, and so no proper bathing. Diseases like scabies started to increase.” It became clear some sort of health service was essential, and thus was the Martha Schmouny Clinic born — first in tents donated by French charity SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, and later transformed into a cluster of three prefabricated containers donated by CNEWA.
As time has passed, and the reality of the Christians’ displacement has become more and more entrenched, the Martha Schmouny Clinic has continued to grow, its capacity and range of services expanding to provide a better safety net for the vulnerable community.
“We often talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in our work,” Sister Diana said as she made her way to the clinic early one recent morning. “We started the clinic like a small grain of yeast and now it has steadily increased like dough.”
Sister Diana remains a hero to those who fled their homes — and remains a great advocate for their cause. To learn how you can support suffering Christians in Iraq, visit this giving page.
20 May 2016
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters
Most of the parishioners of St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral near San Diego emigrated from Iraq in the last 20 years. To learn more about this vibrant faith community, read East Goes West from the January-February 2004 edition of our magazine. (photo: Lyon Liew)
20 May 2016
The video above explains how Syrian bishops, religious organizations are seeking to stop sanctions on Syria, as a new report reveals countries are not delivering on aid they pledged to the war-torn country. (video: Rome Reports)
Israeli defense minister resigns (The New York Times) The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, announced on Friday that he was resigning, an abrupt move that comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly conducts negotiations with a far-right party to join his government. As part of those negotiations, Mr. Netanyahu is believed to have offered the position of defense minister to Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party...
Air disaster adds to Egypt’s litany of woes (NPR) The cause isn’t yet known, but the loss of an Egyptian plane into the Mediterranean has already delivered a new round of trauma to a beleaguered country struggling on several fronts. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s hardline rule faces mounting criticism at home and abroad. An ISIS-linked group is waging an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. The tourist industry has been in the doldrums for years. And the EgyptAir plane that vanished early Thursday marked the country’s second aviation disaster in just over six months...
Report: Countries not fulfilling pledges to help refugees (The Guardian) Countries who attended a London summit to help Syrian refugees have so far only committed a sixth of the money they pledged for 2016, a report shows. The money is due to be allocated to help countries in the region surrounding Syria, primarily Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, with a focus on Syrian children’s education and improving the chances of refugees finding paid work...
Over 100 reported killed by floods, landslides in Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) About 100 people have been killed by floods and landslides across Ethiopia that started last month, government officials say. At least 20,000 families have been made homeless, according to the UN, while local officials say there are a number of people still missing. Meteorologists have blamed this year’s particularly powerful El Niño weather phenomenon for the country’s high rainfall...
Aid from UAE headed to Iraqi refugees (Fides) The eleven Iraqi Christian refugee families in Mosul who found hospitality in Naur, western urban area of the municipality in Amman, will also receive this year material aid reserved for them from the United Arab Emirates...
Commission says suicides on the rise in Gaza (Gulf News) Independent Commission for Human Right’s (ICHR) figures show six suicides in Gaza since the beginning of this year whereas five Gazans took their lives in the entire 2015. The commission urged the situation in Gaza be addressed by the entire society which must establish a national mental health committee to tackle the suicides. The ICHR said there is a sharp increase in the rate of suicide attempts, too...
19 May 2016
Carol Hunnybun served CNEWA in the Middle East for nearly two decades.
(photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
“A dauntless dame” is how CNEWA’s Michael La Civita described the indefatigable Carol Hunnybun in 1994. She joined CNEWA in Beirut in 1963, and eventually served with Helen Breen as administrators of our Jerusalem office from 1966 until 1982.
In an interview, she was asked about one corner of that world that has become a flashpoint for war and suffering, Gaza:
“I used to go down to Gaza once a week. I hated the place. It’s a horrible place. So much human misery; so much dirt; there are no drains in the camps. In the summer it’s not so bad; everything dries up. But in winter when the sand becomes muddy and greasy, you can imagine what it’s like.”
Before the troubles, she added, Gaza had fertile soil, beautiful orange groves and abundant vegetable gardens. But this changed “when all you have is thousands of refugees and ghastly living conditions.”
Over the years, Carol Hunnybun contributed several articles to the magazine, always writing about CNEWA’s world with candor, compassion and grace. In 1979, she captured the essence of CNEWA’s mission, as she described one facility in Bethlehem which CNEWA supported:
Three groups have joined together, and they have achieved great things. Each group brings a gift. First there are the committee members and the staff: their gift is dedication. Then there are the patients: their gift is courage. The donors are next: their gift is love. The gifts form a triple bond that unites all three and fires the Home with a special spirit. By these gifts and with God’s help, miracles still happen in Bethlehem.
Thanks to Carol Hunnybun and countless other heroes like her, miracles still happen in every corner of our world. Visit this link to learn how you can be a part of our mission.
19 May 2016
Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus care for orphans at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa. To learn about this orphanage, read Where Every Child Has a Name in the September-October 2001 edition of our magazine. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
19 May 2016
In the video above, a priest from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum explains the pope’s project for refugees in Jordan. Today, Pope Francis spoke to diplomats at the Vatican and encouraged them to work on behalf of migrants and those caring for them. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope to diplomats: do not give in to fear in helping migrants (CNS) While the international community should continue working for peace in war-torn countries, it also must work to help migrants escaping violence and persecution as well as those caring for them, Pope Francis said. In a speech 19 May to six new ambassadors to the Holy See, the pope said that while fears of terrorism and changing a nation’s culture cannot be dismissed lightly, the concerns must “be addressed in an intelligent and creative way so that the rights and needs of all are respected and upheld...”
Search underway for missing EgyptAir flight (CNN) EgyptAir Flight 804 vanished from radar on its way from Paris to Cairo with 66 people aboard, the airline said Thursday. The plane was flying at 37,000 feet when it lost contact overnight above the Mediterranean Sea, the airline tweeted. French President Francois Hollande said he was told the flight crashed, but Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi said he preferred to classify the flight as missing...
New bishop in India vows to evangelize (Crux) In what could seem simply Vatican business as usual, Pope Francis last month created a new diocese in the Indian state of Odisha and named its first bishop. It’s anything but ordinary, however, because Odisha, formerly known as Orissa, was the setting for the worst anti-Christian pogrom in the early 21st century. In late 2007 and again in the summer of 2008, mobs of radical Hindus left 100 people killed, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 Christians taking refuge in a nearby forest, where more died of hunger, thirst and snakebite. Bishop Aplinar Senapati of the new diocese of Rayagada says the main thrust of his mission in this battle-scarred territory will be evangelization...
How a 100-year-old agreement made the modern Middle East (America Magazine) The Sykes-Picot Agreement, one of the most fateful pacts in modern history, was signed 100 years ago on 16 May 1916. It is not an anniversary to be celebrated...
The suffering of Syria’s Christians taught him how to be a priest (CNA) Father Rodrigo Miranda is a priest from Chile. But it was in Syria, among the oppressed Christian community, that he learned what it really meant to be a priest. “They wake us up to the essential and important things in life,” he told the Spanish daily ABC. The witness of the persecuted Christians in Syria is “an antidote for the mediocre and decadent world of our societies...”
Metropolitan Tikhon congratulates Patriarch Kiril on DECR anniversary (OCA.org) In a letter dated 17 May 2016, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon offered congratulations to His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow on the 70th Anniversary of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations [DECR]...
18 May 2016
Father Mikhael Khachkalian, the only Armenian Catholic priest in Tbilisi, Georgia sings during the weekly youth liturgy in the tiny chapel of the Armenian Catholic Center in Tbilisi. To learn more about A Firm Faith in Georgia, check out our Spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)
18 May 2016
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura lead talks on Syria on 17 May 2016 in Vienna.
(photo: Leonhard Foeger/AFP/Getty Images)
Syria support group wrestles with ending conflict (Voice of America) The International Syria Support Group has stepped up efforts to help stabilize Syria with new provisions that would exclude repeat cease-fire violators from being protected under the cessation of hostilities agreement and would also expand humanitarian air drops into besieged areas. However, challenges remained as the multi-national group wrapped up its meeting in Vienna...
Residents near Gaza border told to prepare for possible evacuations (Newsweek) Israeli authorities have instructed residents of Israel’s southern communities on the Gaza border to prepare for a mass evacuation in the event that another conflict with Palestinian militant groups breaks out this summer. Tensions are increasing on the border, with firefights breaking out between Hamas militants and Israeli forces, as Israel conducts operations to root out the extensive tunnel network in the coastal enclave that has been used to smuggle goods and to launch attacks against Israeli forces...
Pope greets Ukrainian children at audience (Vatican Radio) During this week’s general audience, Pope Francis extended a special greeting to a group of children from Ukraine, who had been brought to the Vatican by the international initiative Children for peace all over the world...
Archbishop to UN: Stop terrorism by winning hearts of the young (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, called for world leaders to “strike terrorism at its very roots and where it must primarily be fought: namely, in the hearts and minds of men and women,” especially the youth, who are at risk of radicalization and recruitment by terrorist groups...
Efforts should focus on rebuilding farmers’ resilience in Ethiopia (The Guardian) This year’s severe El Niño drought has dealt a major blow. The effects have been devastating, as more than 10.2 million Ethiopians require food assistance. Farmers in drought-affected areas have had to watch the crops and livestock that feed their families and produce their income vanish. But there is still cause for hope...
Some Christian refugees in Slovakia ask to return home (Fides) At least twenty of the 149 Iraqi refugees who have been in Slovakia for a few months on the basis of a “selective” welcome program reserved for Christian refugees have decided to return to Iraq. They have explained their choice with nostalgia for their homeland and the difficulties of adapting to the cultural context of the country that had welcomed them. The Iraq returnees, according to local sources, were part of the group of Iraqi Christians from the villages in the Nineveh Plain, who had been forced to leave their homes in August 2014, before the advance of the jihadi militias of the Islamic State...
Kerala damaged after heavy rains (Indian Express) Heavy rains lashed various parts of central and southern districts of Kerala, causing extensive damage in coastal areas. Rains and rough seas caused damage to hundreds of houses in coastal areas in the state capital, Alappuzha and Ernakulam districts, official sources said. Authorities have given directions to evacuate people in low lying areas, where reports of houses being damaged have come in. Relief camps have also been opened to shift the affected people in these areas, they said...
17 May 2016
The Rev. Roy Mathew Vadakkel initiated several construction projects to help the poor in India. In the photo above, he visits one of the projects CNEWA funded, which supplied harvesting tanks for rainwater. (photo: CNEWA)
Four years ago, we interviewed a remarkable Syro-Malabar priest in India who was working tirelessly to care for the poor and the outcast. The Rev. Roy Mathew Vadakkel had launched several construction projects, including one that has built harvesting tanks for rainwater.
Our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, wrote: “He makes it a point to see that nobody is deserted in the streets or at homes nearby. He feeds and looks after them by collecting help from local residents. Father Vadakkel gets help from everyone, and gives help to everyone, regardless of religion and caste.”
In his interview with us, Father Vadakkel said:
My mother, who died when she was just 46, was a very pious lady, and her great wish was that I should become a priest. She sent me to church every day for Mass. She taught me prayers and showed me by her own actions how to live for the poor and the needy. So I always had the urge to become a priest and to help the poor.
While I was in the major seminary, I used to visit prisoners, beggars, the sick and other forsaken people.
As for his work today:
I want simply to be a source of “hope to the hopeless.” There should not be any person with no one to look after them. I hope to do the most good for the greatest number of people by supporting them — by deeds more than words. Thus each life is to be dignified. As a priest, I have no other option but to dedicate my whole life in service to the poor. As it is said in the Bible, “Wash each other’s feet ... do good ... and be merciful.”
17 May 2016
Five-year-old Battoul al Hassan stands outside her family’s temporary home in Jounieh, Lebanon. Many refugees fleeing the Syrian war are seeking a safe haven in Lebanon. Read more about them in Crossing the Border in the Spring 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Hadi)