9 May 2016
In this image from 2011, an Iraqi man inspects the damage at a Catholic church after attacks in Kirkuk. Despite predictions that Christianity could be wiped out of his war-torn homeland within five years, Chaldean Archishop Yousif Mirkis of Kirkuk said he believes in God's ultimate preservation. (photo: CNS/Khalil Al Anei, EPA)
Despite predictions that Christianity could be wiped out of his war-torn homeland within five years, an Iraqi Catholic cleric said he believes in God’s ultimate preservation.
“This prognosis may be of thinkers or politicians, but not of the believers,” Chaldean Archishop Yousif Mirkis of Kirkuk told Catholic News Service at an April trauma counseling training in this Lebanese mountain retreat town.
“When our faith reaches the edge, even to the point of death, there is always an intervention of God, something amazing happens,” said the archbishop.
“This is the faith of the Old Testament witnessed in Exodus and (the) parting of the Red Sea, and in the New Testament with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, I don’t believe those who say that there won’t be Christians in Iraq.”
Iraq’s Christian population numbered about 1.4 million during the rule of Saddam Hussein, but figures now hover between 260,000 and 300,000 as political instability and persecution by Islamic State militants have drastically reduced their numbers. Other religious minorities, such as the Yezidis, also have been targets of vicious persecution by the extremists.
Half of the remaining Christians in Iraq struggle to remain true to their faith or flee to other countries due to dangers the Islamic State poses, including forced conversion to Islam. Every year, the Christian population decreases by 60,000-100,000, according to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, in a report issued late last year.
Archishop Mirkis has argued otherwise from his experience of helping those who have fled extremist persecution and are displaced within their homeland. He said healing in his diocese to those traumatized has taken a number of forms, whether using puppets, theatrical scenes, art, song and poetry as well as group “talk.”
“We try to use all the possibilities in our community and especially spiritual services such as masses, Bible study groups. The best thing is not to give up. We shall overcome,” he said of the 130,000 who fled from the 2014 Islamic State militant takeover of Mosul and the Ninevah Plain. “There are too many questions for us about Daesh and what is to follow,” he said, using the militants’ name in Arabic.
“But this is not the first time we experienced this kind of persecution,” he said, noting past times of Christian persecution.
The Aid to the Church in Need report references an exodus from Iraq of Christians fearing ethnic cleansing and potential genocide at an unprecedented pace while the world has stood by. It warned that “Christianity is on course to disappear from Iraq within possibly five years — unless emergency help is provided on a massively increased scale at an international level.”
In late April, Islamic State militants blew up Mosul’s iconic clock tower church, known as al-Latin or al-Sa’ah Church. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako denounced the destruction.
“We have received news that the ISIS elements blew up the archaeological Latin church belonging to the Dominican fathers, located in the center of Mosul. We strongly condemn the targeting of the Christian Church and also condemn the targeting of mosques and other houses of worship,” he said.
The patriarch urged Iraqi politicians to speed up the national reconciliation process, while imploring the international community and religious authorities to do more to end ongoing sectarian conflict in order to protect the country and its citizens.
But the storming of Iraq’s parliament building by Shiite protesters in late April underscored the extreme fragility of the government and plunged Iraq into a deeper political crisis as divisions spread not just among Sunni Muslims, Shiites and Kurds, but splinter each grouping from within.
Archbishop Mirkis said: “Those who decide to emigrate are making a very hard decision. Those who stay, we try to help them.”
He said his diocese has taken in 800 families and 400 university students who want to continue their studies in Iraq, even though their parents have emigrated.
“Christians who are stable in Iraq discovered that they can do more than be Christian only. By welcoming the displaced and helping them, many have overcome the trauma they have experienced,” he said. “I spend all my time, not only with material needs of the traumatized, but also addressing their psychological and spiritual healing.
“Our faith is very rich. It dies, if you don’t use it,” he said. “Please use the faith you have. Don't let it die inside you.”
6 May 2016
A man attends a Catholic liturgy in a displaced-persons camp in Ainkawa, Iraq, last month.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Paul Jeffrey was one of several journalists who accompanied CNEWA chair Cardinal Timothy Dolan on his pastoral visit to Iraq last month. On the CNS blog today, he offers this little slice of life inside a camp for displaced Iraqis:
When a colleague and I arrived at the Ashti camp for internally displaced families on the outskirts of Ainkawa last month, we asked for the “abouna,” the Arabic word for father, or priest. We were looking for Rogationist Father Jalal Yako, but he wasn’t in his small caravan, the modular container-like building that has become ubiquitous among the displaced in northern Iraq.
In response to my one-word query, people pointed down a crowded passageway. We headed that direction, occasionally querying, “Abouna?” Everyone kept pointing us on, all the way to the toilets. There stood the priest, with several construction workers, remodeling some troubled toilets.
I’m not sure whether Father Yako’s seminary education prepared him for this, but today he’s the de facto mayor of a village of 250 families, about a thousand people. Toilets are just one of his challenges.
When tens of thousands of people fled from the Islamic State’s sweep through Mosul and Qaraqosh in 2014, they came to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees (they had crossed no international border), they weren’t eligible for assistance from international agencies. Neither the government in far-off Baghdad nor authorities in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan offered much help. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from Islamic State, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile. Twenty-one months later, the church remains the principal manager of aid. Providing spiritual care goes hand in hand with providing water, sanitation and electricity.
In the blog post, Father Yako offers this assessment:
“As a community, we have survived because of their solidarity, the solidarity of churches, friends, and humanitarian organizations. They have contributed a lot, perhaps because they have felt part of our people’s journey. We have resolved many problems here thanks to their help. We have many friends.”
Read more and see additional pictures here.
4 May 2016
A mother brings her child to the Daughters of St. Anne’s clinic in Ethiopia for a checkup. The country is facing its most severe drought into decades, and children in particular are suffering. Read more in When Rain Fails, in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
3 May 2016
An image of Our Lady of Sinj is decorated at St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church in Chicago. In Catholic tradition, May is the month devoted to Mary. Learn more about the traditions of Balkan emigrants living in Chicago in Sharing Space in an Adopted Home from the May 2004
edition of ONE. (photo: Hryhoriy Prystay)
2 May 2016
Celebrating Easter yesterday, a boy looks at a huge traditional egg on 1 May 2016. Some 374 large eggs and 40,000 small ones decorated by Ukrainian artists are displayed at St. Sophia Square in Kiev. To learn more about the delicate art of egg decorating in Ukraine, read The Colors of Easter in the March 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
29 April 2016
Today, 29 April, marks the feast of St. Catherine of Siena. In the picture above from 2015, Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena settle in to their makeshift convent in Erbil, Iraq, where they are serving displaced Iraqis fleeing ISIS. Read more about their heroic and selfless work here. (photo: Don Duncan)
28 April 2016
In this image from 2010, a dance group performs at the annual Greek Festival in Salt Lake City. To learn more about a thriving community of Greek Americans preserving their culture in Mormon country, read Greek Orthodoxy in Mormon Zion in the July 2010 edition of ONE.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
27 April 2016
The Rev. Oleg Kindiy, who teaches philosophy and theology at Ukrainian Catholic University, gives a tour of the chapel at the school in Lviv, Ukraine. To learn more about this remarkable school and the impact it is having, read Where Change Is on the Curriculum in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Petro Zadorozhnyy)
26 April 2016
An icon hangs among the ruins of one of the few remaining structures at the site of the raized village of Navilovka near Chachersk, Belarus. Navilovka was among hundreds of villages in Belarus demolished by authorities and the residents evacuated following radiation contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. (photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine:
The meltdown at the Soviet plant was the worst nuclear disaster in history.
An uncontrolled reaction blew the roof off, spewing out a cloud of radioactive material which drifted into other parts of the USSR, including Russia and Belarus, and northern Europe.
Relatives of those who died attended candle-lit vigils at several churches, including at Slavutych, a town built to re-house workers who lived near the nuclear plant. A series of events are being held throughout the day.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko laid a wreath and observed a minute’s silence in the Ukrainian capital Kiev before heading north for a ceremony at the plant itself, not far from the Belarussian border.
Speaking in Chernobyl, he said the nuclear disaster had been Ukraine’s biggest challenge between the Nazi occupation in World War Two and the recent conflict in eastern Ukraine, which he described as “Russian aggression”.
Vasyl Markin, who had been working in Chernobyl at the time of the disaster, attended the midnight vigil in Slavutych.
“This tragedy will stay with us till the end of our lives,” he said. “I won’t be able to forget it anyway.”
The disaster forced over 250,000 to be relocated and resulted in the deaths of thousands from radiation poisoning, including 31 clean up workers.
Last week, Pope Francis remembered the victims:
Pope Francis on Wednesday prayed for the victims of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station disaster 30 years from the tragedy.
Addressing the various groups of pilgrims of different nationalities present in St. Peter’s Square for the General Audience, the Pope had special greetings for those from Ukraine and Belarus.
Mentioning the International Conference that has been organized to mark the anniversary, Pope Francis said he is “praying for the victims of that disaster while expressing appreciation and gratitude to those who have assisted them and for the initiatives aimed at alleviating their suffering and the damage.”
25 April 2016
Orthodox Christians marked Palm Sunday yesterday. In this picture, a boy takes a break from the Palm Sunday procession in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 24 April.
(photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)