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.”
1 August 2016
World Youth Day pilgrims hold candles during a 30 July prayer vigil with Pope Francis at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. Palestinians and Israeli pilgrims shared the same sector of the Field of Mercy and had a chance to meet and talk. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
At least for a few minutes at World Youth Day, the physical barriers between Palestinian and Israeli communities were nonexistent.
A group of Palestinian Catholics and a contingent of Hebrew-speaking Catholics from Israel found themselves in the same sector at the Field of Mercy for the closing programs of World Youth Day.
The two groups talked for a short time after arriving on the open fields the afternoon of 30 July, members of both delegations said. The time together was cordial and offered a chance to meet people of the same faith living in neighboring communities who might not meet under ordinary circumstances.
“We can’t really meet each other in our country,” said Danielle Maman, 22, of Jerusalem, one of the Israeli Catholics. “We can’t talk face-to-face because there are walls and checkpoints.”
“We’re all Christians. We always try for peace,” said Asil Zarek, 17, of Beer Sheva, Israel.
Pilgrims in both groups said they were not sure how to overcome the political barriers that exist across the two communities, but they thought their faith could be a bridge.
“We should all, as Palestinians and Christians, be one together,” said Michael Abusada, 26, a Palestinian living in Jerusalem. “All of us can bring home peace, love and the mercy of Jesus.”
The theme of mercy ran throughout the six days of World Youth Day. Many participants, some of whom arrived as early as 10 a.m. for the evening vigil, reflected on their experiences in Poland, the new friends they made and the messages of mercy the emanated throughout liturgies and catechetical sessions of the festivities.
French-speaking pilgrims from Quebec said that on their trek from Krakow, more than four miles away, they thought about the people they met and how similar they all were.
“It’s all about meeting people,” said Benjamin LeCroix, a member of Assumption Parish in Saint-Georges, Quebec. “We all chose to be here. It’s not like a school trip where some people don’t want to be part of it. Everyone here wants to be a part of this great heaven.”
Seeing so many people sharing the Catholic faith impressed Andria Saenz, 20, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Laredo, Texas. She said being at World Youth Day also was about being on a pilgrimage to better understand her faith and the people of the world.
“I’ve never been out of Laredo, and I wanted to see what people were talking about,” she told Catholic News Service. “Poland is not the first place I thought of seeing. But the people and land are beautiful. I have a different perspective.”
It also was the first significant journey for Jacqueline Ndecky, 32, of Guinea-Bissau, and the 14 others in her group. She said seeing so many people focused on the life of Christ was gratifying.
“The message is there is no limit to Jesus,” she said. “He is the same to people in Asia, Africa, everywhere.”
A small group from the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, was resting while waiting for the pope to arrive. Efrain Torres, one of 38 in the contingent, had been at previous World Youth Day celebrations, but never as a leader of a group, like this year. He said he was eager to hear what Pope Francis had to say.
“This is the presence and experience of the living Christ,” he said. “We’re waiting for the vicar of Christ, who invites us to go out to the marginalized. We want to know what God wants to tell us through our vicar and take it home in our hearts to share.”
Sister Catherine Holum, 36, an American Franciscan Sister of the Renewal ministering in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, was smiling as she talked with four other sisters from her order and three pilgrims from the archdiocese.
Sister Catherine described the week as a joy to experience. She also had been involved as an emcee at a catechetical session earlier in the week, keeping 150 young people engaged in the conversation through prayer, song and enthusiasm.
“This is where you meet the word, share the Lord, have a great encounter and make new friends. It’s a very beautiful thing,” she said.
“It’s not about ourselves, but what we do with our brothers and sisters. We’re a tool of our brother Jesus. Having heard about the mercy of God this week, we are called to be merciful ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing.”
29 July 2016
Children greet CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, on his pastoral visit to an Ain Kawa camp for displaced Iraqis. See more memorable images from his trip in the Summer 2016
edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
28 July 2016
The Rev. Daniel Lenz leads a prayer for the newly inaugurated Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community in Omaha, Nebraska on 26 June. Father Lenz is biritual, meaning he was ordained for the Latin rite but is permitted to celebrate Byzantine liturgies as well.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community)
The Omaha Byzantine Catholic Community in Nebraska seems off to a good start with two baptisms since its official inauguration as an outreach of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma this past spring.
The new Eastern Catholic community is the result of a grass-roots effort begun about 18 months ago by Catholic layman Matthew Willkom.
Within this short time, the Omaha community went from having monthly prayer services on a weeknight to finding a biritual priest who currently celebrates Sunday Divine Liturgy with them once monthly. About 60 people are associated with the community, though about 20 people attend regularly.
The 36-year-old radio producer moved to Omaha with his wife and three children four years ago from Minneapolis, where he first encountered the Byzantine Catholic Church. Though a Latin Catholic, Willkom became a regular at the Byzantine parish there and, after living in Omaha for more than two years without a Byzantine liturgy, decided to start a Byzantine community.
“I was missing (the Byzantine liturgy) so much, I felt like something should be done,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
For a year, the community prayed on a weeknight at a Ukrainian parish on Omaha’s east side. The pastor agreed they could pray in English with Ruthenian chant. Now-retired Bishop John M. Kudrick of Parma had lent the fledgling group support in the form of liturgical books, as well as guidance from Father Bryan Eyman, the eparchy’s director of missions and outreach.
However, in January, the community found a new location — the monastery of the Poor Clare sisters on Omaha’s west side — where biritual Benedictine Father Daniel Lenz currently celebrates Divine Liturgy one Sunday per month. “Biritual” means he was ordained for the Latin rite but is permitted to celebrate Byzantine liturgies as well.
People come from all over Omaha and from the Lincoln, Nebraska, area, which is about 40 miles away, said Willkom.
Father Eyman visited the Omaha community 24 April. After celebrating Divine Liturgy for about 60 people and inaugurating the outreach, he spoke to them about the steps in becoming a canonical mission.
The most important steps are developing commitment and stability in numbers and attendance, and getting finances in order, he said.
Eventually, members hope to establish a mission on Omaha’s west side, which is currently experiencing significant demographic growth, with young families moving into the middle- to upper-class suburb from the inner city, said Willkom.
“But we’re not there yet,” he said. The “next step is incorporating locally so we can start to collect donations and provide for the liturgical needs of the community.”
He said there are currently no canonical Ruthenians residing in Omaha, but the recent news that a Byzantine Catholic couple from St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish in Munster, Indiana, intends to join the outreach once they move to Omaha this summer is encouraging, he added.
Their presence “will provide some stability and connection with the larger liturgical and spiritual life of the eparchy,” Willkom said.
The outreach also is working to establish weekly Byzantine services by the fall. Omaha’s Latin-rite Catholic archbishop gave one of his deacons permission to receive the necessary formation to lead the outreach in a Typika service — known as a Communion service in the Latin Church — on the Sundays when the priest is not available.
Willkom said the whole process has been “a journey of discovery.”
“We’re all very new to this,” he said. “The bottom line is that we’re looking for encouragement from the eparchy, and Father Bryan’s visit certainly symbolizes that.
“We’re also looking to focus on evangelization, on showing the mercy of God to each other, that same mercy we repeatedly proclaim and beg for ourselves in the Divine Liturgy,” he said.
The outreach is open to serving all Byzantines, he said. To date, they have reached out to Melkite Catholic refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq, who continue to make their way to the Omaha-Lincoln area.
27 July 2016
Bishop John S. Pazak, center, is the new head of the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix. He was enthroned 20 July during a Divine Liturgy at St. Helen Roman Catholic Church in Glendale, Arizona. (photo: CNS/courtesy Kathleen Slonka, Eparchy of Phoenix)
The American West welcomed a new bishop from the East last week. From CNS:
In a liturgy packed with rich symbolism and ancient tradition, the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix celebrated the enthronement of Bishop John S. Pazak as its fifth bishop.
Archbishop William C. Skurla of the Byzantine Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, and a former bishop of the Phoenix-based eparchy, prayed the words of enthronement over the new bishop during a Divine Liturgy that took place at St. Helen Catholic Church in Glendale 20 July.
The Byzantine Catholic Church is one of the Eastern Catholic churches in full communion with Rome.
Bishop Pazak, who spent the past 15 years as the bishop of the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Eparchy in Toronto, processed to the front of the church followed by Archbishop Skurla and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Bishops and clergy from across the country — including Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who head, respectively, the Latin-rite dioceses of Phoenix and Tucson — also attended along with Catholics from throughout the eparchy.
“I am truly pleased to be with you today,” Archbishop Pierre said after reading the 7 May proclamation appointing Bishop Pazak. “I know that you join with me in offering to him not only our heartfelt congratulations, but also the assurance of our prayerful support as he takes on the very important responsibilities of chief shepherd of this community of faith.”
“Receive this pastoral staff with which you are to watch over Christ’s flock that has been entrusted to your care,” Archbishop Skurla prayed at the enthronement.
The congregation responded with cries of “Axios! Axios!” — Greek words meaning “he is worthy.” Throughout the liturgy, almost entirely chanted, there were echoing refrains of “Lord have mercy” and “God grant him many years.” Archbishop Skurla then escorted Bishop Pazak to the throne, officially taking the reins of the eparchy.
In his homily, the new bishop conveyed a message of mercy:
Society must learn to respect “every single human being who is made in the image and likeness of God” and Christians must act with mercy, he said. “Our world needs the witness of Christ’s unconditional mercy that we proclaim so often in our liturgy. Divine mercy must illuminate our minds, and more importantly, our hearts and our life’s journey.”
[Phoenix] Bishop Olmsted said he was touched by the Byzantine liturgy. “They have different traditions, different prayers, but it’s the same Eucharist, the same sacred Scriptures, the same love for Christ.”
The Scriptures and liturgy come alive for Latin-rite Catholics who attend a Byzantine liturgy, he said, and “I trust they do the same when they come to our sacred liturgies. We help one another grow in an even deeper love for Christ.”
In the Winter 2015 edition of ONE, writer Joyce Coronel and photographer Nancy Wiechec offered a fascinating glimpse into another Church of the East flourishing in the American southwest, the Chaldean Church. Check it out.
26 July 2016
Asmeret, a young mother from the Horn of Africa, helps care for children at Our Lady Woman of Valor Pastoral Center in Israel. She’s one of many immigrants seeking a new life in Israel. Learn how she and others are Surviving Without a Country in the Promised Land in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: CNEWA)
25 July 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan comforts a woman during his visit to a camp for displaced Iraqis in Ain Kawa, Erbil, last spring. (photo: Courtesy of Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil)
The Summer 2016 edition of ONE contains a powerful glimpse at Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s recent visit to Iraqi Kurdistan:
“I was raised with a high value on visiting people, especially when there was adversity,” wrote Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, upon his return from Iraqi Kurdistan in April. “A neighbor a block over had a fire; the next day we visited to see how they were doing and if they needed anything. Uncle Ed had eye surgery; we visited to make sure he was recovering. After my grandpa’s death, we visited my grandma a lot.”
The cardinal visited Iraqi Kurdistan “because,” he continued, “the Christian community there is family, a family in a lot of trouble, with much adversity, and to visit them is a very good thing.”
From 8 to 12 April, the cardinal, who chairs Catholic Near East Welfare Association, led a pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan to be with the families displaced from their homes in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain since August 2014.
Just miles from the demarcation line separating these families from the forces of hate that have engulfed the region in a whirlwind of bloodshed, the cardinal and his delegation — which included CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre and CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar — demonstrated CNEWA’s solidarity with the displaced and those committed to their care.
Read more and see a gallery of images in the Summer edition of the magazine.
22 July 2016
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar visits the students at St. Gabriel School in Saesa, Ethiopia. He made a memorable visit to the Horn of Africa several weeks ago, and shared his impressions — and some beautiful pictures — in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
21 July 2016
Sister Hakinta helps with homework at the Our Lady of Armenia center in Tashir. Many men have left the country to work abroad, leaving women to raise children on their own. Learn what the Church is doing to lend support in Armenia’s Children, Left Behind in the Summer 2016 edition
of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
20 July 2016
Filipinos attend a Saturday Mass celebrated in Tagalog at a pastoral center in Tel Aviv. To learn more about migrants making a new home in Israel, read Surviving Without a Country in the Promised Land in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: CNEWA)