13 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York visits a displacement center in Dawodiya, Iraq, on
10 April 2016. (photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
CNA’s Elise Harris had a chance to interview Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop William Murphy as they completed their pastoral visit to Iraq:
As he leaves Iraqi Kurdistan, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said what struck him most during the visit were the people’s faith and hope, despite violent persecution.
“These people from an earthly point of view don’t have much, but my, oh my, their sense of resilience and hope were simply astounding,” Cardinal Dolan said in an interview with CNA.
“Do they mourn the past? Yes they do, but they’re about the present and they’re about the future, and that’s a sentiment that will never leave me.”
Cardinal Dolan is the Archbishop of New York and chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
He was joined by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, a CNEWA board member, for a three-day visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he toured projects aimed at helping refugees and met with families, Church leaders, priests and religious who were displaced as a result of the 2014 Islamic State attacks.
The trip included visits to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, and to the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk. It concluded with a Mass celebrated by Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, in which representatives of several other rites were present, including the Latin and Chaldean rites, as well as the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
Both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Murphy spoke to CNA in a sit-down interview on the last day of the trip to share their thoughts and reflections about what they had seen and experienced.
What are your impressions after spending these days here in Iraq?
Cardinal Dolan: I would find my impression would be on both sides. First of all there’s an impression of sadness and sobriety in what these people have gone through. They’ve lost their homes, their homes that have been in their families for centuries, centuries and centuries, alright. They’ve lost a sense of security, they’ve lost in many ways a sense of stability that is so necessary for human existence. So there is an undeniable sense of sadness and somberness. But then I jump ahead to the other side of the spectrum to say that they haven’t lost their sense of hope. They haven’t lost their faith. We’ve heard people cry out in anguish, but they always have a sense of hope.
And I can’t get over it.
I mean look, you were at the liturgy yesterday. You talk about joyful, reverent, grateful prayer and praise, trusting in God. Of all people you’d think they would be almost dour in Mass. You’d wonder if some of them would be tempted not to come anymore because they were so crushed. We have our parishes at home for Sunday Mass where sometimes there’s a sense of heaviness and people don’t seem interested, and we’ve got prosperity, we’ve got peace, we’ve got stability. These people from an earthly point of view don’t have much, but my oh my, their sense of resilience and hope were simply astounding. And I see it in the priests, I see it in the sisters, I see it in the lay leaders, I see it in my brother bishops. Do they mourn the past? Yes they do, but they’re about the present and they’re about the future, and that’s a sentiment that will never leave me.
Is there a specific moment that was particularly moving for you?
Bishop Murphy and I have shared a number of them, and when we process this it’s amazing that we both have felt the same thing. One would be the desire of people just to go back home. Just to go back home. They’re not saying ‘take us to America.’ They’re saying ‘we just want to go back home, can you help us get back home?’ And number two, the second I think, would be that sense of hope and promise. They’re so resilient that their kind of making the best of what they’ve got. They have this trust in God and they say ‘we wanna go back home, we don’t know how long we’re going to be in exile, but let’s make the best of it. Let’s tend to the basics of faith, education, healthcare, food, shelter, protecting our kids. That’s basic civilization, that’s basic solidarity and they’re doing it magnificently.
As a journalist I sometimes find that people read the news and move on. How can we convince people to continue to be interested and invested in what’s happening here?
Bishop Murphy: One of the things is [that] I’ve been doing blogs each day. They’re not as long as a column, but you get them out. Everybody who’s on that website will see this regularly. Another thing we did was last year, we announced that in the middle of the summer, July-August, that weekend would be Middle East weekend. So we did what we Catholics do and took up another collection (laughs). But we were able to get some more money out of that, and I think we just need to take opportunities like that and call the attention of people to it. Then some people respond and you’ll find some groups will respond. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said: you start it with one, then another, then a third and fourth, and before you know it you have a movement. And I think we should really be encouraging those who catch on to this. To start to do some things on their own that would be helpful. We can’t be the only voice, for example, in Washington. We can be a voice, but we’re just the bishops. Take the decision on Christian genocide. What made the difference there? It wasn’t the fact that the names of x-amount of bishops were there, it was the fact that all of the sudden, people picked up on it. I’m not saying that’s changing things radically, but it’s another force for good.
Read the full interview here.
13 April 2016
During his just-completed trip to Iraq, CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, visited displaced Iraqis in a variety of settings.
Along with CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar and the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the cardinal toured camps and villages, stopped by schools and clinics, and prayed with the faithful in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It was an extraordinary trip, full of meaning and emotion — and, for many facing despair, it carried a message of a unwavering hope.
CNS photographer Paul Jeffrey captured some of these moments in candid, surprising and often moving photographs.
Check out the brief compilation of moments and images below.
12 April 2016
Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home on 7 April to attend a church-run preschool in Ainkawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Photojournalist Paul Jeffrey of CNS this morning filed this item on the CNS blog. He is one of the journalists covering Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s pastoral visit to displaced Iraqis:
Every morning, as her son prepares to leave for preschool, the mother of 4-year old Luis Firas takes a stick of oil and makes the sign of the cross on his forehead.
Blessing is important for this Christian family, which fled from Mosul during the 2014 takeover of the area by Islamic State militants and today — like tens of thousands of other displaced — live in a small modular temporary shelter in Erbil, a town in northern Iraq controlled by Kurds.
As I photographed their morning ritual, Luis grabbed the stick and marked a cross on his mother’s forehead, also blessing her.
When the displaced families arrived in Erbil, a booming oil town fallen on hard economic times and the looming threat of Islamic State they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees — they had crossed no international border — they weren’t eligible for assistance from a variety of international agencies. Neither the governments of Iraq nor the autonomous Kurdistan offered much. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from ISIS, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile.
As almost 20 months have gone by, the church continues to be the de facto manager of aid. The displaced camps are managed by priests-turned-mayors, the schools run by nuns who are themselves survivors of what many consider genocide, the clinics staffed by volunteer doctors who go home at the end of the day to a tiny prefabricated house in a camp for the internally displaced.
Read it all.
12 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York greets parishioners at the end of an 11 April Mass in a displaced-persons camp in Ainkawa, near Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Tom Gallagher from the National Catholic Reporter is part of the team that accompanied Cardinal Timothy Dolan and CNEWA on the pastoral visit to Iraq this week. He had a chance to interview the cardinal and get some initial impressions from his trip:
NCR: In addition to prayer, what practical assistance can dioceses, parishes, Catholic organizations and individuals do to assist Christians persecuted and suffering in Iraq and the Middle East?
Dolan: One of the reasons we come here is to get the word out and let people know what’s happening. First of all, I know you didn’t intend it this way, Tom, but we can never diminish the value of prayer. And that has to be first and foremost. If I’ve ever seen that vindicated, it’s in the vivid faith of the people here. I mean prayer, worship, liturgy, faith means the world to them. And as one lady told us yesterday, “Where else are we going to go, but to our faith?” We can never diminish prayer. I know you didn’t intend it that way.
What can we do? I think we need to get practical. Let’s start supporting vigorously organizations like the Catholic Near East Welfare Association...
...Number two: Let’s advocate. Do you remember when [President] Ronald Reagan for the first time met with [Soviet Union President] Mikhail Gorbachev? He told the American people that he had a list in his pocket of the names of people who were in prison for their religious beliefs in the Soviet Union. He intended to ask Mikhail Gorbachev about each of them. And it worked.
We hold in high regard the advocacy of our Jewish neighbors, especially in New York. They are first to tell us, people like Bishop Murphy and me, “What’s taking you so long? Why are you afraid to advocate with the government on behalf of your people?” We need to do that.
I’ve been moved with the fact that I haven’t detected any anger against the United States among these wonderful people [the internally displaced Christian Iraqis]. In fact, I detect a love for America, almost a trust that America could do something for them. And we can’t let them down. We’ve got to do it. I’m not just talking about humanitarian aid. I’m talking about the plea from them [displaced Iraqi Christians] that we heard over and over again: “We just want to go home. We just want to go home.” So let’s advocate.
Read the entire interview.
To support CNEWA’s work in Iraq, visit this link.
11 April 2016
Cardinal Dolan greets worshipers at a discplacement camp in Iraq.
(photo: Tom Gallagher/National Catholic Reporter)
The New York Post this morning has a brief roundup of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s visit to Iraqi Kurdistan:
Timothy Cardinal Dolan traveled to war-torn northern Iraq to lift the spirits of Christian families persecuted by ISIS and displaced from their homes.
“Please, hear us say we love you, we need you, we cannot forget you,” Dolan told the faithful Saturday at the St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary in Erbil, the last Christian seminary in the country, according to the Catholic News Agency.
Dolan led a delegation of Catholic officials from New York, and encouraged the flock to reject the notion that the church is dead in Iraq.
Read it all.
10 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan greets Iraqis in the village of Inishke before Mass on 10 April 2016.
(photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
Elise Harris of CNA continues her coverage of Cardinal Dolan’s pastoral visit to Iraq with CNEWA:
On his second full day in Iraq, Cardinal Timothy Dolan traveled three hours to Dohuk, the city where the majority of those who fled Mosul, including the members of the minority Yazidi population, escaped to when ISIS overran the city.
After the lengthy ride, Cardinal Dolan briefly visited a medical dispensary set up by CNEWA, where he greeted the staff and some refugees, most of whom come from Mosul.
He then traveled to the Inishke village in the upper region of Dohuk where he concelebrated Mass in the Chaldean rite in the presence of the local Christian community, a number of refugees, as well as representatives of the Yazidi and Muslim communities.
The principal celebrant for the Mass was Bishop Shlemom Wardoni, who is one of three auxiliary bishops serving under Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. Members of other rites, including the Syriac-Catholic rite, were also present at the Mass, including a number of displaced priests.
Although Cardinal Dolan was not the main celebrant at Mass, he preached the homily, conveying the core message that he came to share with everyone: “We love you...You are not forgotten.”
10 April 2016
CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is making a pastoral visit to displaced Iraqi Christians
in Erbil. (photo: CNA)
CNA’s Elise Harris, accompanying Cardinal Timothy Dolan and CNEWA’s team on the pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, filed a report this afternoon on the cardinal’s visit to a seminary in Iraq:
After spending his first full day in Erbil, Iraq, Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave a special message to men studying in Iraq’s only remaining seminary for diocesan priests.
“You, you will be the apostles. You will be the heralds. You will help convert the world,” Cardinal Dolan said 9 April.
He spoke to the nearly 30 seminarians currently studying at St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary for the Chaldean Patriarchate in Erbil after having toured different projects that help the internally displaced and listening to their stories of suffering.
While some might be tempted to say that the Church is dying in Iraq, and that it is more alive in other areas, “we say to you no. Here is where the Church is alive.”
“You are teaching us,” the cardinal said. “So please hear us say we love you, we need you, we cannot forget you.”
Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, spoke to the seminarians on his first full day in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he is currently on a pastoral visit intended to offer support and solidarity to families, Church leaders, priests and religious who were displaced as a result of ISIS attacks in 2014.
He is traveling in his capacity as chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) along with CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, and the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan. CNA is also part of the delegation.
The seminary is the only one left in Iraq that provides formation for diocesan priests in the country, and is one of the many structures and projects supported by CNEWA. First established in Baghdad, the seminary was later moved to Erbil for security reasons, and is headed by the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda.
Read the rest.
9 April 2016
Students at the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena’s prefab school in Ainkawa, Erbil, on
7 April 2016. (photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
Elise Harris, with Catholic News Agency, is among those traveling with the CNEWA team and Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Iraqi Kurdistan this week. She filed this report:
Six hundred Christian children whose families fled ISIS violence in 2014 have lost their homes, schools, sometimes friends, sanitary living conditions and the stability of a normal life.
However, despite their many losses, there’s one thing they never left behind and which continues to grow stronger everyday: their faith.
When it comes to the question of how to persevere in the faith — and pass it on with terrorists just a few miles away — one woman named Carin has developed a unique form of catechesis that she is teaching to displaced Christian children in Iraq.
“I think that children have the capacity to worship Jesus, to contemplate,” Carin told CNA in a 7 April interview in Erbil.
Her classes aren’t intended to just teach the kids how to pray, but rather to provide them the opportunity “to meet with Jesus, to give and receive his love” on a personal level, she said.
A French native, Carin is a volunteer at a prefabricated school run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in the Iraqi city of Erbil, which provides education to 600 displaced Christian children and is sustained by funding from charitable organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
Most of the children attending the school are from either Mosul or Qaraqosh, the former Christian capitol of Iraqi Kurdistan, and are among the 120,000 families who fled Qaraqosh when ISIS attacked in August 2014.
9 April 2016
Shelters for internally displaced people in a camp in Iraqi Kurdistan are converted shipping containers. (photo: Tom Gallagher)
The National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher is traveling with the CNEWA team and Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Iraq. Late Friday, he filed this report for NCR on some of what he saw in the camps that are now home for displaced Iraqi Christians:
Our small delegation visited two camps, Ashty 1 and Ashty 2, located in Ainkawa, as well as a nearby health care clinic initially established by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
More than 5,500 people, mostly Christian, reside at Ashty 1 camp. The camp has more men than women, more than 2,000 children, 107 widows, 75 orphans and 185 disabled people.
A grade school serves 750 students. The camp has a workshop where women create small handcrafted mosaics and it has a small factory where sesame seeds are ground to make pastes and dips. A basketball court and soccer field provide space for recreation.
The camp’s church, located under a large tent a year ago, is now located at a newly constructed building that seats 800.
Some enterprising camp residents have created small businesses fixing shoes, selling food and drink items, and selling snow cones.
The camp’s director described the daily challenges people face. The main problem is potable water. Gas generators and chlorination are used to create clean water. For every 10 families, a septic tank is installed. The Kurdish government removes trash.
The homes are converted shipping containers, sitting on cinderblocks. They are cramped, airless spaces with two windows and a front door. One window contains a boxy air conditioner. The camp’s streets are made of hard-packed mud and stone and dust is constant. Families hang their washed clothing to dry on lines tied to their buildings.
Another challenge for the camp is new marriages. Since there is no more living space available, young couples are forced to live with their parents after marriage, which leads to inevitable conflict.
Some families add space by attaching a thin frame with fencing or tarps to the containers. After two years, the camp’s temporary housing is taking on the feel of permanent housing. There is no place to go, no home to return to, as the Islamic State group either continues to occupy their towns or has booby-trapped the towns with explosives, or the region otherwise remains too dangerous to return.
“If we did not believe in Jesus, half of us would commit suicide,” said the camp director when asked to describe the mental health of those in camp.
As we meandered through the streets of Ashty 1, Msgr. John Kozar, president of the New York City-based CNEWA, greeted people warmly and reassured them that they are not forgotten, that they are loved and that, as Christians, they are our brothers and sisters.
Read on for more, including details of how CNEWA is supporting people in the camps.
CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets some of the residents of Camp Ashty 1 in Ainkawa, Iraq. (photo: Tom Gallagher)
7 April 2016
Internally displaced Iraqi school children pose for a picture at Al Bishara School (Annunciation School), run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ainkawa, a suburb of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo: Tom Gallagher/NCR)
This week, CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is embarking on a pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, to visit with displaced Iraqis. The trip is already beginning to generate some press coverage, including this report from Catholic News Agency and an interview with the Cardinal in Crux.
You can read about the trip and what it entails right here.
And if you look to the sidebar on the left, you’ll see a widget we have just installed, “Journey to Iraq.” Consider this your one-stop spot for following the trip and picking up the latest news and developments over the next several days.
We hope to post news, photographs and possibly even video. So check back often.
Meantime, the latest post on the trip comes from National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher, who writes:
The first full day on the ground in the northern region of Iraq known as Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region recognized by the Iraqi government in Baghdad, is completed. Our small delegation visited a grade school, Al Bishara School — the Annunciation School — located in Ankawa, a largely Christian community on the outskirts of Erbil, that is run by the Dominican Sisters. After lunch, we visited a newly-established public university serving some 1,400 students seeking a bachelor’s degree, and attended a religious ceremony at a nearby Christian church celebrating the Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis.
The children at Al Bishara School were enjoying recess when we arrived. Like most kids the world over, they loved getting their pictures taken. They horsed around and pushed and shoved to get their picture taken. Pairs of kids would wait patiently for their turn. When they saw themselves on the digital camera screen afterwards, they smiled and laughed and elbowed each other. It could have been recess at any grade school in the U.S.
One of the highlights of the first day was an exclusive NCR interview with Dominican Sister Maria Hanna, superior general of the Dominican Sisters, who shared the harrowing story of exodus from the City of Mosul, just over 50 miles from Erbil, from the village of Bashiqa, some twenty minutes from Mosul, and from Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city of Iraq. It is a compelling story, which I will file soon.
Erbil is a city of contradictions.
Read on for more.