12 April 2016
Displaced Iraqi families are receiving support in a variety of ways from CNEWA.
(photo: Kevin Sullivan)
Today during our pastoral visit with Cardinal Dolan, chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), our mission brought us within a few miles of the Turkish border and a few miles from the devastated city of Mosul.
Our mission today and every day here in Kurdistan, Iraq is to show solidarity with those suffering from the ravages of ISIS persecution of Christians, Muslims and the Kurdish religious community called Yazidis. No group seems to have been spared.
We visited an inspiring CNEWA medical clinic with state-of-the-art medicines and equipment that treat those displaced and now settled in the city of Duhok. Once again, many of the staff are also displaced individuals. The clinic serves Yazidis, Muslims and Christians with a staff whose spirit and dedication are palpable. Hundreds are helped each day in a range of specialities.
We then visited a local parish and celebrated Sunday Mass with a vibrant congregation composed of hundreds of families displaced in the past two years. The Patriarch’s Vicar celebrated the Liturgy in an Eastern rite and Cardinal Dolan preached. For me, one of the most moving parts of the Mass was hearing the congregation pray the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic — very likely a modern version of the language in which Jesus actually taught the prayer to his disciples. Meanwhile, the young adult choir rivaled any choir I’ve heard for their sound and exceeded most for their prayerfulness.
Read the rest and see more pictures from the visit here.
11 April 2016
Two young displaced Iraqis display determination and hope. (photo: Kevin Sullivan)
Today’s visit to the school for children displaced from Mosul was more celebratory with the presence of Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Warda and Bishop Murphy. An assembly of more than 440 students gathered in the central square of the school accompanied by marching music. CNEWA’s head Msgr. Kozar made sure that the visitors experienced the uplifting spirit of the school that the Dominican Sisters infuse every day. The deeply spiritual atmosphere of the school is exemplified by the volunteer French catechist and her Iraqi translator who teach the children how to pray to Jesus. CNEWA support and spirit are essential to making the school so successful.
The visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters provided a life lesson in the suffering and deaths caused by persecution and deviant religious actions. Some 74 sisters fled ISIS terrorism from the Mosul area in August 2015. When they first arrived, only some could live in the convent due to lack of space. Many lived in quickly arranged trailers on the convent grounds. Over the past year, 24 sisters have died of various causes from the effects of the trauma they suffered. Eight sisters are living in trailers. Contrary to secular expectations, this community that has experienced so much suffering and death is a strong source of life and hope not merely among themselves but for the tens of thousands they serve in schools, clinics and camps in the Erbil region.
The camp visited today is a place of both faith and frustration: strong faith in Jesus and strong frustration that the future seems indeterminate. The desire to return to the homes from which they have been displaced is frustrated by the uncertainty if and when this might be possible. There is the awareness that they must rebuild from the ground up as the houses and places of worship they left are no longer theirs — if any are even still standing. Accompanying this frustration and anger is also a vision of hope as one young women sees herself as a journalist telling the poignant stores of her people.
The day ended with a visit to a seminary and the 17 seminarians studying for the priesthood in this persecuted and war torn land. My cursory math (subject to correction upon further review) made me quickly estimate that percentage-wise there are more seminarians per total Catholics in Iraq than there are in New York. One was asked about his fear of persecution. His response was simple; that this is part of our Christian faith.
You can see more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures on his blog Just Love.
9 April 2016
A mother and child greet visitors to the camp in Erbil. (photo: Kevin Sullivan)
In the morning, we visited one of the medical clinics and refugee camps in Erbil. The camp is overseen by one of the local priests and the Dominican Sisters are actively present. The clinic is supported by and was built with the assistance of CNEWA. More than 90 children are seen at the pediatric clinic each day. Hundreds of adults are seen and administered other medical services at the clinic.
The camp holds more than 1,200 families — most living in their own trailer. Some families are doubled up. About 50 families are living in single room containers in a large warehouse type building. While this is a refugee “camp,” it appears more like a makeshift “village.” Families try to make the best of the situation — redecorating and renovating their trailers to suit their individual family needs. Some small businesses have opened and are selling basic necessities. In the “village,” more than 400 young people are preparing for their First Communion.
In the afternoon and evening, we had the opportunity to meet with the local Archbishop and hear his understanding of the current situation. His report is both painful and hopeful. He tells of the cruelty that the Christians have faced in the past few years — often times at the hands of those who were their neighbors and friends. At the same time, he speaks of the courage and hope of the more than 80,000 Christians who fled from the Mosul area to Erbil. The suffering and persecution coupled with the courage and hope are essential parts of the story of the past few years as well as the present.
See more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures at his blog Just Love. And you can read his account of his first day visiting the region here.
8 April 2016
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan visited an elementary school in Erbil — and made some new friends — on his first day in Kurdistan (photo: courtesy, Kevin Sullivan).
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan is Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and is traveling with Cardinal Dolan and the CNEWA team to Iraq this week. He posted the following on his blog Just Love.
On the first day of a mission with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and Cardinal Dolan I had an opportunity to visit both an elementary school and a university in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. Both were only built and opened within the past year to deal with the exodus of Christians fleeing the onslaught of ISIS around Mosul beginning in the summer of 2014.
These photos reflect the vibrancy of both sites as their very existence brings dignity and hope to those being educated at these schools. The Dominican Sisters operate the elementary school that is strongly supported by CNEWA and a number of other Catholic humanitarian and pastoral aid organizations. The University is a public university that CNEWA has provided assistance in the form of furnishings and a generator. It educates both Christian and Muslim students, men and women together for degrees in the humanities and business.
In addition, a festive gathering of prayer and theatre among hundreds of Christian youth — mostly Syriac Catholic — was held next to the university to open the Year of Mercy. It was led by the local Bishop who had fled with his people from Mosul. Msgr. Kozar, the head of CNEWA gave a very warm and inspiring talk to the youth.
View more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures from the trip at this link.