16 August 2016
Children flash victory signs as they play in Manbij, following its liberation from ISIS. (photo: Reuters/Rodi Said)
Friday, the northern Syria city of Manbij was liberated from ISIS, and residents celebrated by doing things that the militant group had forbidden.
From the BBC:
They have poured into the streets enjoying basic rights they had been denied for two years, including shaving off their beards and smoking.
US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters fought 73 days to drive IS out of Manbij, close to the Turkish border.
About 2,000 civilians being used as human shields were also freed.
Reuters news agency spoke to a resident of Manbij who described a spot where people were beheaded. “For anything or using the excuse that he did not believe [in God], they put him and cut his head off.
“It is all injustice,” he said.
“I feel joy and [it is like a] dream I am dreaming. I cannot believe it, I cannot believe it. Things I saw no one saw,” a woman said screaming and fainting, according to Reuters.
Another woman thanked the fighters that had set them free: “You are our children, you are our heroes, you are the blood of our hearts, you are our eyes. Go out, Daesh [Arabic name for IS]!”
The Washington Post noted:
Under the Islamic State, women were forced to cover their faces. But on Friday, some of them were photographed with lifted veils.
One woman set fire to a niqab, a veil that covers all of a woman’s face except the area around her eyes.
Below is a video report on the liberation of Manbij:
12 August 2016
Tags: Syria ISIS
In this image from May, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, left is seen Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar mosque and university, and Archbishop Georg Gaenswein at the Vatican. The French cardinal said terrorists want to make peace-loving Christians and Muslims believe that it is impossible for them to live side by side; it is up to Christians and Muslims to prove them wrong.
(photo: CNS/Reuters pool via EPA)
Terrorists want to make peace-loving Christians and Muslims believe that it is impossible for them to live side by side; it is up to Christians and Muslims to prove them wrong, said French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.
The cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said he was in France 26 July when 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel was brutally murdered in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the murder.
Writing 12 August in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Tauran said, “Obviously, these crimes threaten the credibility of interreligious dialogue, but we must continue to meet, to speak and to work together when possible so hatred does not prevail.”
In a multicultural, multireligious society, ignorance breeds problems, he said. “In order to live together we must look at those who are different from us with esteem, friendly curiosity and a desire to walk together.”
When tensions arise or outrageous acts are perpetrated, the cardinal wrote, they must be studied as “providential lessons from which people must draw the necessary wisdom to open more reasonable and more courageous paths.”
As now-retired Pope Benedict XVI taught, he said, dialogue deepens only when both dialogue partners know and practice their own faith and are willing to try to explain it to the other.
“Dialogue cannot be based on ambiguity,” the cardinal said, so “an event like that of 26 July 2016, pushes us to deepen our spiritual life and nourish it with prayer and study.”
Christians and Muslims, he wrote, “can — rather, we must — work together and promote religious instruction,” especially in societies that appear to be trying to drive religious faith to the margins of social life.
“By killing Father Jacques, those who conceived of this despicable act had one precise goal: to demonstrate that peaceful coexistence among Muslims and Christians is impossible,” Cardinal Tauran said. “But we have demonstrated and we believe that we must join forces in the name of God to work together for harmony and unity in a spirit of sincerity and mutual trust.”
11 August 2016
Arpine Ghazaryan cuts her son’s hair. She lives with her two boys in Gyumri, Armenia — just one of many families in the country who are now fatherless. Discover why, and what is being done to help them, in Armenia’s Children, Left Behind in the Summer edition of ONE.
(photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
10 August 2016
In this image from December 2015, a refugee prays Christmas day at a camp in Calais, France. Iraqi Christians appear divided about whether they will be able to return home after ISIS militants are flushed out of the battle-scarred Ninevah Plains region. (photo: CNS/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)
Iraqi Christians appear divided about whether they will be able to return home after Islamic State militants are flushed out of the battle-scarred Ninevah Plains region. They say their safety must be guaranteed at all costs.
“If the liberation of the Ninevah Plains region is successful, infrastructure is rebuilt and there is security, I would want to be among the first to return,” said Fadi Yousif, who teaches displaced children in the Ashti II camp for displaced Christians in Ain Kawa, near Irbil. “It’s my home. I love that place. But what is absolutely essential is that we have real security there.”
Housed in an unfinished concrete building, Yousif and other displaced people live in containers that take the place of homes lost to the Islamic State. He said his home region would be a different place from what he remembers due to the dispersal of friends and family abroad because of the long wait to rid the area of the Islamist extremists.
“About 60 percent of my friends are now living in exile, whether in neighboring countries or Europe. My mother, father and two sisters are now in Lebanon. I have a brother in Jordan. My uncle is in the United States. Only another brother and I are still in Iraq,” he said. It was unclear whether Yousif’s family would regather in Iraq following the liberation.
Um Fadi, a 37-year-old Chaldean Catholic mother, also is concerned about safety. She and her family of six live in Ashti II.
“I swear, I never saw something like this except in a horror film. But I actually witnessed people being killed and saw dead bodies with my own eyes,” she said of her escape from the Islamic State’s assault on her village of Qaraqosh two years ago.
“Of course, we are frightened to return. What are we going back to? The houses and churches have been bombed. My children, particularly my youngest son, is very frightened about the idea of returning there,” Um Fadi told Catholic News Service.
Other Christians like, Saif Haney, told CNS they will never go back home because they heard that Islamic State militants used their family houses as execution dens.
Some Iraqi Christian political leaders are calling for the inclusion of armed Christian militias to participate in the liberation of Mosul and the Ninevah Plains, their ancestral homeland, alongside U.S.-led coalition forces, Iraqi troops and Kurdish fighters.
Although that may not happen, Christian political leaders such as Yousif Yaqoob Matti want to see Christian defense forces built up to protect Mosul and the Ninevah Plains after their liberation. They said this is necessary because although many Christians would prefer to have an international force, such as U.N. peacekeepers in the area, this is unlikely to happen.
“The battle for the Ninevah Plains against Islamic State will be complex, but the military forces involved must perform as one, unified entity,” Matti told CNS.
“After the liberation, demining efforts will take place and electricity, water and other necessary infrastructure will need to be rebuilt. It is hoped that after four months, people may be able to return safely.”
Bahman Maalizadeh of the North Carolina-based Norooz Foundation has traveled to Mosul’s frontline villages ahead of the offensive. His and other nongovernmental organizations have provided badly needed food and medicine to displaced Christians and Yezidis.
“There is a small Christian force left to protect so many lands,” Maalizadeh told CNS. “It is so important for the international community to help these forces to not only protect the land, which they have, but once the area is liberated, to provide security to ensure that Christians can return home.”
A man who identified himself only as John, a Syriac Catholic from Hamdaniyya, is Um Fadi’s neighbor in Ashti II camp. Although he and his family are desperate to forget the past and to leave Iraq, that might not be possible.
“We can’t leave Iraq, but we want to. Although Kurdistan has been kind to us, there is really no work here, so we have run out of money,” he told CNS. “We have to have a future for ourselves and our kids, so we need to go somewhere else. We don’t see that happening in Iraq because so many wars and conflicts have erupted here.”
He and his family have already been displaced already twice: They had to flee the capital, Baghdad, for safety to Hamdaniyya and then escape to Ain Kawa following the Islamic State takeover of their area.
“Frankly, money isn’t the objective. The only thing we want in life is what everybody else wants,” he told CNS. “It’s to be able to live in your own home without any concern about what can happen to your kids. I want my children to grow up that way, feeling secure.”
9 August 2016
Migrants gather to celebrate Mass in Rehovot, Israel. The challenges many migrants in Israel face are significant. Check out the Summer 2016 edition of ONE to learn more about people Surviving Without a Country in the Promised Land. (photo: CNEWA)
8 August 2016
The new Refugee Olympic Team arrives for the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro on 5 August. In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world. (photo: CNS/David Gray, Reuters)
In a personal message addressed to each of the 10 members of the new Refugee Olympic Team, Pope Francis wished them success in their events and thanked them for the witness they are giving the world.
Naming each of the team’s athletes from South Sudan, Syria, Congo and Ethiopia, Pope Francis said he had read some of the interviews with team members “so that I could get closer to your lives and your aspirations.”
“I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio — that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity,” he said in the message, signed in late July.
The 2016 Summer Games marked the first time a refugee team officially participated in the Olympics. Team members marched under the Olympic flag and, in the event a team member wins a medal, the Olympic anthem was to be played instead of the national anthem of the athlete’s home country.
Pope Francis expressed his hope that through the team “humanity would understand that peace is possible, that with peace everything can gained, but with war all can be lost.”
“Your experience serves as testimony and benefits us all,” the pope told team members.
Yusra Mardini, 18, was the first member of the team to compete in Rio. The swimmer is ranked 41st among women swimmers competing in the 100-meter butterfly; Mardini finished first in her initial heat on 6 August.
Like tens of thousands of Syrians, Mardini fled her war-torn country through Lebanon and Turkey. She found a space on a rubber dingy to make her way to Lesbos, Greece, but the motor stalled. She, her sister and another woman — the only people on the boat who could swim — pushed the boat to shore.
From Greece, Mardini traveled on to Germany, where she was given official refugee status in March and continued her training as a competitive swimmer.
Five of the athletes — including Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 23, the team’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony — are South Sudanese refugees who were living in the huge Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
The national Olympic committees of the refugees’ host countries, the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Olympic Committee chose the team members. The IOC provided the athletes uniforms and is covering their costs and those of the team’s coaches and staff.
5 August 2016
In this image from May, children at the Saint Gabriel Primary Government School in Ethiopia greet visitors. They are among thousands of young people who are contending with a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa. Learn how you can help the hungry hold on to life by
visiting this page. (photo: John E. Kozar)
4 August 2016
Young sisters are seen joking and laughing as they walk near their convent in Bharanaganm, Kottayam, in the Indian state of Kerala. India is facing new challenges in trying to attract young people to religious life. Discover why some feel they are On a Mission from God in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)
3 August 2016
Tags: India Sisters Kerala Indian Christians Vocations (religious)
In this image from 2003, an Eritrean Orthodox bishop displays two Coptic-style crosses. The hand cross is used for blessings. To discover more about the Orthodox Church in Eritrea, read Ancient Church in a Young Nation from the November-December 2003 edition of the magazine.
(photo: Chris Hellier)
2 August 2016
Displaced Iraqis gather 16 July at a refugee camp near Mosul, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)
Security tops the list of what Christians of Iraq and Syria want before they’ll consider returning to areas they fled when the Islamic State and other extremist groups took over.
They also want help with displacement difficulties, justice for past offenses, self-governance, ethnic militias, and the right to ultimately choose to move permanently to Europe, the United States or beyond, said representatives of Christians and other minority ethnic groups. The minority representatives spoke at an all-day conference at Jesuit-run Georgetown University 28 June. The following day, the same group met at the U.S. State Department with representatives of more than 20 countries involved in supporting a post-Islamic State scenario in Iraq and Syria.
“The important thing ... is the security and the confidence that a family, a father, a wife, a child a daughter ... can be safe in their own home,” said Bishop Awa Royel of the Assyrian Church of the East.
Bishop Royel and other members of indigenous Iraqi Christian groups told Catholic News Service at the Georgetown conference that up to 70 percent of Iraq's Christians had fled their native country since U.S.-led forces toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, and that, due to the Islamic State takeover of northern Iraq in 2014, close to 150,000 Christians from those areas had either escaped to nearby Kurdish-controlled areas or to neighboring nations.
“Security is important, long-term security, against ISIS and against any other group that could come up in the future,” Bishop Royel said, suggesting one way to achieve that was through international protection and a “constant line of dialogue” among northern Iraq’s various ethnic groups, to prevent the weakening of society, which the bishop said had facilitated the Islamic State takeover.
“When there are suspicions and when there are mistrusts, you have each religion going into their own little corner. Leaders of various religions present in Iraq ... have to meet regularly, not to discus theology, but just to share what the communities are going through,” he said.
Other Iraqi Christian participants at the conference concurred with Bishop Royel that their communities would be looking for increased security in the regions they had inhabited before fleeing Islamic State, which claims to have established a caliphate across parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Christians insisted this could only be achieved it they were given full administrative control of historically Christian cities and towns and if local Christian militias were reinforced in those areas.
Both “empowering (Christians) to take administrative control of their areas” and “training Christian youth to protect their areas” must be achieved for displaced Christians to feel safe enough to return home after Islamic State has been defeated, said Syriac Catholic Father Behnam Benoka of Iraq.
Father Benoka pointed out that since the time of Saddam, there were efforts on the part of the Iraqi state to populate historically Christian areas with other religious groups, and he called for demographic justice and for such historically Christian lands to be restored.
In March 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives and Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians, Yezidis, Shiite Muslims, and other religious and ethnic minority groups in Syria and Iraq.
“Unfortunately, months later, ISIS and other violent extremist groups continue to target and terrorize their victims through rape, enslavement and murder, while religious and cultural sites are systematically looted and destroyed,” read a statement by Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project, which hosted the conference, “Threats to Religious and Ethnic Minorities Under the Islamic State.”
Bishop Royel, Father Benoka and the other Christian representatives to the conference's different panels told CNS that, in addition to their concerns regarding safety of the future, they were worried about the immediate welfare of tens of thousands of Christians now living in camps, containers, and in other desperate situations, in areas where they had fled inside Iraq and Syria, or in neighboring countries.
They called on Western governments to speed up the asylum process for minorities who wanted to leave until peace was restored, or for good.
“As a minority ... you pay the biggest price,” said panelist Bassam Ishak, a member of Syria’s Christian minority who estimated that well over a million of his co-religionists had been displaced due to the violence of ongoing civil war, Islamic State, and other extremist groups back home.
“We need a political resolution ... that takes into account the Syrian diversity and seeks to build a pluralistic Syria. Then (Christians) may have a future, and we may even have some ... who return,” Ishak said.
Concerns of the conference’s Christian panelists’ mirrored for the most part those of the region’s various other minority groups.
Conference panelist Rajab Assi Kareem, speaking on behalf of Iraq’s tiny Kakai minority, said Islamic State had destroyed the group’s places of worship and that it was up to “the United Nations to ensure the peace” needed to prevent it or similar extremist groups from ever coming to power again.
Murad Ismael, one of the conference’s several panelists representing Iraq’s Yezidi minority, called on the international community to “put some parameters for the minorities to maintain their homeland and to ensure a future.”
Yezidis wanted international protection and restitution, especially in light of the recent raping, kidnapping and massacres the community had endured at the hands of Islamic State in Iraq, said Ismael.
“Otherwise,” he said, “the best thing will be to open doors ... and to permit mass exodus.”