19 October 2016
Peshmerga forces advance 18 October to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)
Iraqi forces closing in on Mosul (CNN) The Iraqi army’s armored division is closing in on Mosul’s fringes after sweeping through enemy-controlled land in the past 48 hours, liberating communities village by village, the division’s commander told CNN Wednesday, as the operation to liberate Mosul from the brutal grip of ISIS militants intensifies...
Report: thousands have fled Mosul ahead of offensive (Voice of America) Save The Children said Wednesday thousands of people have fled the Mosul area in order to escape an offensive by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the city from Islamic State militants. The aid group said about 5,000 people have arrived at a refugee camp in Syria during the past 10 days and that it is at risk of being overwhelmed as more people come. “These families arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs and find almost nothing to help them,” said Tarik Kadir, who heads the group’s Mosul response...
Displaced Christians celebrate as Iraq forces near Mosul (AFP) Hundreds of displaced Iraqi Christians danced and sang to celebrate an Iraqi military operation to retake their community’s main hub of Qaraqosh from jihadists. Iraqi Christian men, women and children — some of them holding candles — gathered at Mar Shimon church in the Kurdish capital of Arbil to pray and celebrate, an AFP correspondent reported on Tuesday. Iraqi federal forces on Tuesday moved deep into Qaraqosh, a town that lies around 15 kilometres (10 miles) southeast of Mosul and was seized by the Islamic State jihadist group in August 2014. “Today is a happy moment. There is no doubt our land will be liberated and we thank God, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary,” said Hazem Djedjou Cardomi, a journalist among the crowd...
Pope Francis: access to food, water is a basic human right (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday said access to food and water is a basic human right, and called on believers and people of good will everywhere to take personal responsibility for the needs of their neighbors...
Bishops meet to discuss pastoral care of Eastern Catholic migrants (Vatican Radio) Bishops of the Catholic Eastern Rite Churches in Europe are meeting in Portugal from 20-23 October to discuss the challenge of the pastoral care of Eastern Catholic migrants in Western European nations, especially the preservation of their cultural and ecclesial identity...
Russia opens new church in Paris (AP) Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has attended a ceremony to inaugurate a Russian Orthodox church and cultural center next to the Eiffel Tower. Russian President Vladimir Putin had planned to attend Wednesday’s ceremony at the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center but postponed his visit to Paris due to diplomatic tensions between Russia and France over the war in Syria. The complex, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral, has been built on the site of the former headquarters of France’s national weather forecasting services, near the Seine River...
18 October 2016
Ivlita Kuchaidze survived famine, war and political upheaval in Georgia— but has held on to hope in spite of every imaginable hardship. (photo: Molly Corso)
Some of most memorable people we have encountered over the years have been not only heroes, but survivors.
One of those is Ivlita Kuchaidze, whose indomitable spirit and engaging smile mask a life of exceptional challenges:
Ivlita Kuchaidze survived famine, World War II, the Cold War, the Georgian civil war and the country’s turbulent early years of independence. But, at 93, she may be facing her hardest challenge yet: Along with an estimated 400,000 other Georgian citizens, Ms. Kuchaidze endures a life of abject poverty.
After decades spent caring for others, Ms. Kuchaidze has become one of the thousands of pensioners who must depend on charity to survive.
“How do I live right now? In the cold. Hungry. Everything has gotten so expensive,” she says.
“I am used to it,” Ms. Kuchaidze adds. “I grew up half hungry. It is harder for people who used to live well.”
...Hers is the story of so many Georgians of her generation — defined, in large part, by jagged contours of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. It is the story of perseverance in the face of oppression, of holding on to hope in spite of every imaginable hardship. It is a story of longing and loss.
It is also a story of a heroic woman who never let life defeat her, despite all her difficulties. “Thank God for what I have,” she told writer Molly Corso. “Whatever I have, it is enough.”
Read more about her remarkable life here.
CNEWA is privileged to work with Caritas in helping to support “new orphans” like Ivlita Kuchaidze, people who once lived a secure and comfortable life but who now find themselves forgotten or alone — yet still holding fast to their dignity, uplifted by the faith that sustains them.
To learn how you can remember those others have forgotten, visit this link.
18 October 2016
In the video above, the leader of a Caritas humanitarian program in Jordan describes who some Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria have experienced. Iraqi soldiers are battling to retake from ISIS the city of Mosul. (video: Rome Reports)
Aid groups brace for civilian casualties from battle for Mosul (NPR) The battle for the ISIS-held city of Mosul, now in its second day, is expected to drag on for weeks or months. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces approach the city, aid groups in the region are preparing for a humanitarian crisis...
Ethiopian bishops call for dialogue (Vatican Radio) About 60 percent of Ethiopia’s population has been involved in protest and civil unrest for the past year. The Ahmara and Omoro are the two largest ethnic groups in the nation and are also the majority of the protesters. International entities such as the United Nations and European Union have called for government intervention. The Bishops of the Catholic Church of Ethiopia are calling for action...
Cardinal speaks out against religious intolerance (Fides) prominent Asian Cardinal has hit out against religious intolerance in his home nation, calling it a “poison for society.” Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, sent the strongly worded message to the “Fides” Agency, which held an event on Saturday to mark the launch of a book entitled “On the Brink” which examines the realities of life for religious minorities in Asian countries...
Leaders worry about ISIS threat to Kerala Christians (UCANews) Media reports that terrorists connected to the so-called Islamic State (IS) plan to target Syrian Christians in Kerala is causing concerns for religious leaders in the southern Indian state. The Times of India daily recently reported that Kerala police have busted an IS-inspired cell. Interrogations reportedly revealed that the Islamic militant outfit was targeting churches and institutions run by “a denomination of Christians of Syrian lineage.”
Cardinal Sandri visits Mt. Nebo (Vatican Radio) The Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, was in Jordan over the weekend, where he presided over a liturgy celebrating the official re-opening of the shrine atop Mt. Nebo...
17 October 2016
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters deploy on the top of Mount Zardak, about 15 miles east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against ISIS on 17 October 2016.
(photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Battle for Mosul begins (CNN) Iraq’s military says it has inflicted “heavy losses of life and equipment” on ISIS in a district southeast of Mosul, as Iraqi-led forces close in on the city in the long-awaited battle to recapture it from the terror group. Hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of the offensive, Iraq’s military said it had inflicted losses and made advances in the Hamdaniya district...
UN fears 100,000 may flee Mosul for Syria, Turkey (Reuters) Up to 100,000 Iraqis may flee to Syria and Turkey to escape the Iraqi government’s military assault aimed at ousting Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, the United Nations refugee agency said on Monday. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued an appeal for an additional $61 million to provide tents, camps, winter items and stoves for displaced inside Iraq and new refugees needing shelter in the two neighboring countries...
Egypt re-opens border crossing to Gaza (UPI) Egypt announced it temporarily reopened the Rafah crossing for two days to allow Palestinians to enter or leave the Gaza Strip, and plans to do so a second time later this week. The Egyptian government reopened the Rafah crossing on the south side of the Gaza Strip to allow students, people with work permits and humanitarian cases to enter or leave for two days and will do so for four more days later this week...
Finding refuge: Vetting refugees at a Jordanian camp (CBS News) A majority of U.S. governors have called for a halt to the refugee program too. The Syrians who are finding refuge in the U.S. now find themselves at the center of a heated debate, pitting our American tradition of altruism against our fear of terrorism. We wanted to see for ourselves who these refugees are, and what is the vetting process...
Patriarch Kirill consecrates cathedral in London (RT) Hundreds of people including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prince Michael of Kent gathered in London’s Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints to attend a historic service conducted by the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church. Up to one thousand people attended the ceremonies on Sunday, according to the patriarch’s press service. The service included the consecration of London’s largest Orthodox Christian Cathedral, which had undergone a major refurbishment, and the Divine Liturgy, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the British Isles...
14 October 2016
Father Yousif Haddad collects medicine from a storage unit outside his parish church in Zakho. (photo: Raed Rafei)
The displaced people of Iraq are fortunate to have a a hero like the Rev. Yousif Jamil Haddad, who saw a particular problem and came up with a novel solution, a mobile clinic to serve thousands in far-flung villages in Iraqi Kurdistan:
Funded by CNEWA, the mobile clinic is an initiative of the Rev. Yousif Jamil Haddad, the pastor of the Virgin Mary Syriac Catholic Church in Zakho, a bustling city close to Turkey and a commercial hub for the export of oil from Kurdistan.
“Many refugees are staying in poor, remote villages where they have no access to medical care,” says Father Haddad, explaining the motivations behind the project that began its operations last June.
Today, the mobile clinic visits 22 villages scattered throughout the hilly northern edges of Kurdistan, serving a population of roughly 15,000 internally displaced Christian, Muslim and Yazidi families. Staffed by a doctor, a pharmacist, an administrator and a driver, the van departs from Zakho around 9 a.m., five days a week. Each morning, the van is loaded with supplies stored on the premises of the Syriac Catholic parish. It then makes its way to one or two villages where, typically, the clinic’s doctor provides medical consultation to some 140 patients.
This young priest is committed to his community and their struggles, as journalist Raed Rafei noted when he interviewed Father Haddad:
For four days, Father Haddad, the mastermind behind the mobile clinic that I was reporting on, invited me many times for meals and tea to meet with displaced Christians from his community and discuss practical matters pertaining to refugee life as well as historical information on the Christian presence in the region. I was touched to see that he shared the rectory with displaced families. He seemed happy to see the place buzzing with the voices of children playing. He told me that when the refugees first arrived, he had to accommodate the men inside the Church and the women and children in a hall annexed to it. This situation lasted for several days before families could be relocated to rented apartments.
After a year and a half of displacement, Father Haddad understood that what his community really needs is not just assistance with food and medicine but hope for the future.
The mobile clinic helps provide that hope. You can see a video the clinic in action below.
14 October 2016
Syro-Malabar faithful celebrate the conclusion of a spiritual retreat in the Archeparchy of Changanacherry. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on a subject that is the focus of the Autumn edition of the magazine, the Catholic Eastern churches:
These Eastern churches are ancient and apostolic; they are challenged by poverty, hatred, oppression, persecution and “smallness,” but they are unique in their individual character and identity.
Rather than dictate to these individual churches how they might be more like “us,” CNEWA proudly walks with them to uplift them and fortify them in proclaiming their faith and their traditions.
More than anything else, each is a church full of faith, sometimes in a very heroic sense. Helping them maintain this faith is the single greatest act of accompaniment we can offer. Despite overwhelming odds, they endure and remain faithful to our Lord. And we are privileged to witness their daily professions of faith.
The little children radiate in their smiles how a loving Jesus brings joy to their hearts. With a simple signing of the cross, singing of a spiritual hymn, kissing an icon, or preparing to receive the Body of Christ in Communion, these little ones lovingly embrace their faith and invite our continuing expressions of support. They bring us honor as we walk with them.
People who are hungry or who have no shelter find comfort in the church. Although displaced and forced to flee from their home, they still have another “home” — the church. CNEWA reaches out to help nourish them, to bring them basic health care, to provide temporary housing — in short, to remind them they are not alone. While we assist them in their needs, they remind us that we are all members of God’s family. Our prayers for them are infinitely redounded by remembrance of us in their prayers.
There is much more at this link. And check out the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE for more on CNEWA’s unique partnership with the Eastern churches.
14 October 2016
A man reacts on the rubble of destroyed buildings on 11 October after losing relatives to an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. The United States on Saturday plans to mount new efforts to pursue a cease fire for Aleppo. (photo: CNS/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)
New diplomatic push for Syria cease fire (The New York Times) Secretary of State John Kerry will mount a fresh effort on Saturday to pursue a cease-fire for the besieged city of Aleppo by meeting with representatives from the regional powers most directly involved in the Syria conflict, American officials said on Wednesday. Just last week the Obama administration suspended talks with Russia on Syria after accusing the Russian military of conducting a bombing campaign so brutal that Mr. Kerry has urged that it be the subject of a war crimes investigation...
Britain’s first Syro-Malabar bishop ordained (Catholic Herald) Britain’s Syro-Malabar community has taken a major step forward with the ordination of its first bishop. In a ceremony attended by over 12,000 people, Cardinal George Alencherry, the Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, ordained Mar Joseph Srampickal...
Pope Francis: Christians are united by ‘blood’ ecumenism (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said Christians are already united when they are persecuted by terrorists or world powers in what he called an ecumenism of the “blood.” He was speaking in an off-the-cuff address on Wednesday to participants at the Conference for Secretaries of the Christian World Communions, an international ecumenical organization...
Lviv unearths its tragic past (Al Jazeera) Far from the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, this charming city some 750 miles to the west is known for its cafes and cobblestone streets. Besides being a top tourist destination, Lviv is also touted as a model for transparency and good local governance. But under its architectural beauty and progressive streak lies a dark past — a fact Svyatoslav Sheremeta confronted last August, when his team of archaeologists dug up the remains of a dozen people they believe were murdered by the Soviet secret police during World War II...
Pope greets restorers of the Basilica of the Nativity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday during his General Audience greeted the restorers of the Basilica of the Nativity in Jerusalem, accompanied by the vicar general of the Custody of the Holy Land, Fra Dobromir Jasztal, OFM...
12 October 2016
Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on 12 October. The pope called for an immediate cease-fire in Syria so that civilians can be rescued.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis calls for cease fire in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis renewed his appeal for peace in Syria on Wednesday. Addressing pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis said, “I want to emphasize and reiterate my solidarity with all victims of inhuman conflict in Syria...”
Sviatoslav reminds Catholic bishops ‘the first victim of war is truth’ (ByzCath.org) On 6-9 October, Monaco hosted the Plenary Assembly of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. On Saturday, 8 October, the regular working meeting of the heads of Catholic Dioceses across Europe heard reports on pastoral challenges the Church faces in their communities. In his speech, His Beatitude Sviatoslav told his brothers-bishops about the third year of suffering afflicted to the Ukrainians by war. He stressed that despite diplomatic efforts and other activities of the international community, no lasting cease-fire has been achieved in Ukraine...
Warming Russia-Turkey relations sends chill through Ukraine (Christian Science Monitor) Leaders of Turkey and Russia signed a long-delayed deal Monday to build the TurkStream gas pipeline under the Black Sea to deliver Russian gas to Europe’s doorstep within three years. The rapid warming trend in Russo-Turkish relations holds deep implications for Syria’s immediate crisis, which dominated the talks and the subsequent headlines, but the fallout from that pipeline deal is a potentially crushing blow to struggling pro-Western Ukraine and may be rearranging strategic realities around the region for many years to come...
Offering mental health support to refugees in Lebanon (Huffington Post) For the more than one million refugees who have fled war in Syria and Iraq to Lebanon, mental health and psychosocial needs are many and complex. Unlike physical health issues, the lack of visible symptoms for mental health disorders often leads to them being overlooked. Many of the refugees who find safety in Lebanon have survived physical violence including torture, trauma, and have born witness to the atrocities of the unabated armed conflict...
Sister accuses media of bias in Syria coverage (CNS) A religious sister working with Christian families in Aleppo, Syria, has criticized Western media for their allegedly biased coverage of the six-year conflict. Sister Annie Demerjian, a member of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, questioned why Western journalists focused on the plight of people in areas held by rebels and jihadis but seldom those in regions controlled by the government of Bashar Assad. “It is not fair,” she told Catholic News Service in a 10 October interview in Lancaster...
11 October 2016
Fadia Matti shows her family album, containing memories of life in Qaraqosh before ISIS forced her family to flee. (photo: Don Duncan)
Some of the most inspiring heroes we have met over the years are those who have remained devoted to their faith, in spite of almost unimaginable obstacles.
Most recently, that includes the men, women and children who have been displaced by ISIS in Iraq.
We profiled a number of them two years ago, including the Matti family:
Mother of four and wife to Saaed, Fadia Matti reaches often for a roll of toilet paper that sits next to her. She uses the roll for tissues for her coughing or crying. Since arriving in the basement of an unfinished building in Erbil, she has developed respiratory problems, and a broken heart.
“I don’t believe what has happened,” she says of her family’s displacement from Qaraqosh in northern Iraq. She sits on one of the foam mattresses of the family’s new shelter, a small quadrant defined by plastic sheeting. “I cry once I remember [our home in] Qaraqosh: the churches, Communion, having parties and how we would sit with our neighbors and wait for Christmas and Easter. I am sitting here, but my mind is in Qaraqosh.”
Around Fadia sit her children: her daughter Inas, the eldest; 16-year-old son Nibras; 13-year-old daughter Aras; and Diana, 10, the youngest. Her husband Saaed comes into the enclosure, removes his boots and sits next to her.
Around them lie the accouterments familiar to refugees and displaced people the world over: piles of foam mattresses, plastic containers, basic gas stoves, plastic sheeting and imperishable foodstuffs.
The Mattis have ended up in perhaps the worst living conditions that Erbil has to offer for the arriving Christians. While others are housed in tents in the grounds of St. Joseph’s Church or in temporary structures in social centers or on floors above where the Mattis now live, the Mattis’ own living space is in the poorly-lighted basement. The open sewer for the entire building is nearby. A constant smell of refuse and excrement lingers.
“My children get sick. I take them to the doctor. They get well. And then they get sick again,” says Fadia of the endless cycle of ill health that comes with living in such substandard conditions.
“I was comforting my kids, telling them that tomorrow would be better,” she says, “but now I am crying because I think of what we left behind: the churches especially, but also our memories, the childhoods of my children and everything we had.”
But her concluding comments speak poignantly of the deep and unwavering devotion these suffering Christians still carry in their hearts:
&lduqo;I love Qaraqosh. It’s my spirit. It’s my soul,” says Fadia. “We hope we will go back and that Christianity will remain in Iraq. My hope is in God and in Our Lady. It is impossible that Christianity will disappear.”
You can learn what has happened to Christians in Iraq since then by reading Grace in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE and United in Faith, Prayer and Love in the Summer 2016 edition, chronicling the pastoral visit of CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to Kurdistan.
The resilience of the Mattis and so many other heroic families continues to inspire the work we do around the world. If you’d like to learn how to help displaced families in Iraq, visit this page — and please, keep them in your prayers.
11 October 2016
In this image from last spring, children sing in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. To see more and learn more, read United in Faith, Prayer and Love in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)