19 August 2014
Palestinians in Gaza walk next to the ruins of houses destroyed during attacks, on the fifth day of cease-fire in Gaza on 18 August. Reports indicate talks broke down after rockets and airstrikes resumed Tuesday. (photo: CNS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters)
18 August 2014
In this image from July, Christians fleeing the violence in Mosul sleep inside Sacred Heart of Jesus Chaldean Church in Telkaif, Iraq. For some, that was the beginning of a long and dangerous journey. Last week, the first Christian refugees began arriving in Jordan. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Christian refugees are beginning to pour into Jordan, describing the world they left behind:
The first Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic State militants reached the safety of Jordan, helped by King Abdullah II and Catholic aid groups.
“Our money has run out,” said an Iraqi Catholic woman, Um Muwataz, as tears streamed down her face.
“The Islamic State put a big red Arabic letter ’N’ on our home, claiming the house as their property. We had no other choice but to flee, first to the northern Kurdish city of Irbil and now here to Jordan. We’ve spent our last penny,” the former teacher said, her body tensing.
“N” is the first letter of an Arabic word for Christian, “Nasrani” or Nazarene.
“Never in my life could I imagine such a thing happening to us, Christians,” she told Catholic News Service.
Um Muwataz and her family of four managed to fly to Amman from Irbil with about 100 Iraqi Christians from Mosul, Qaraqosh, and surrounding Christian villages, beginning 13 August.
But she said she was concerned for her married daughter and the rest of the family stuck in Irbil, because the young woman’s 6-month-old twins do not have Iraqi passports. Nor they can return to Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, to apply for these travel documents.
Ra’ed Bahou, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, told CNS that about 1,000 Iraqi Christians from the Mosul area were expected to enter Jordan under special arrangements by King Abdullah.
Caritas, the Catholic Church’s humanitarian nongovernmental aid agency, is among the organizations assisting the refugees at a Catholic facility outside Amman by providing food, water and lodging.
They are the latest wave of Iraqi refugees seeking shelter in Jordan, which is still hosting 300,000 Iraqis from the 2003 U.S.-led war. At the height of the conflict, Jordan hosted some 1.5 million Iraqis.
“Since 2003, we have been suffering,” said a refugee who identified himself as Safwan, a 43-year-old engineer. “But this is the biggest suffering yet to befall us. Never in the past 1,700 years has there been no Christian presence at all in Mosul.”
Safwan said he, his 8-months-pregnant wife and two young sons escaped Mosul twice: first, when the area came under Islamic State bombardment in June; in early July they snuck out of the city.
“We left but heard that those who fled after us unfortunately had their cars, gold, money, even baby’s pampers and milk stolen from them by the Islamic State militants,” he said.
Safwan said it was impossible to remain in Mosul with the militants imposing Islamic law, or Shariah, demanding Christians either convert to Islam, pay a “protection” tax or leave.
He said he feared his wife could be taken from him as rumors were rife of the extremists kidnapping and selling some women, both Christians and Yezidis, another religious minority fleeing for their lives.
To support Iraqi Christians under seige, please visit this page.
14 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees
Pope Francis reacts as he learns that Simone Camilli, a video journalist for The Associated Press, was killed in Gaza, as he greets media aboard the papal flight from Rome to Seoul, South Korea, on 13 August. Speaking at right is Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The world follows the Pope wherever he goes, and news of one stricken part of the world reached him as he flew to South Korea:
Greeting reporters accompanying him to Korea 13 August, Pope Francis mourned an Italian video journalist killed earlier the same day in the Gaza Strip and urged journalists to serve as messengers of peace.
The pope listened with a bowed head and grave expression as Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, recounted the fate of Simone Camilli, who worked for The Associated Press.
Camilli and a freelance Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were killed along with three Palestinian policemen who were attempting to defuse unexploded ordnance left over from Israeli-Hamas fighting. Four other people, including an AP photographer, were badly injured.
Pope Francis then led the journalists in 30 seconds of silent prayer for Camilli.
“These are the consequences of war, that’s the way it is,” he said afterward.
“May your words always help unite us with the world,” the pope told about 70 journalists who accompanied him on the flight to South Korea. “I implore you, always send this message of peace, try to give a word of peace.”
13 August 2014
Children prepare for First Communion in Qaramlesh, Iraq, on 1 August. Islamist terrorists drove these Christian families from their homes, so their 8 August ceremony never happened. Read more about the latest from Iraq. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)
12 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Children Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
Yazidi demonstrators protest Islamic State militants in Hanover, Germany, on 12 August. (photo: CNS/Julian Stratenschulte, EPA)
The Vatican released a strong statement on the crisis in Iraq today:
The Vatican called on Muslim leaders to condemn the “barbarity” and “unspeakable criminal acts” of Islamic State militants in Iraq, saying a failure to do so would jeopardize the future of interreligious dialogue.
“The plight of Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic communities that are numeric minorities in Iraq demands a clear and courageous stance on the part of religious leaders, especially Muslims, those engaged in interfaith dialogue and everyone of goodwill,” said a statement from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue released by the Vatican Aug. 12.
“All must be unanimous in condemning unequivocally these crimes and must denounce the invocation of religion to justify them,” the statement said. “Otherwise, what credibility will religions, their followers and their leaders have? What credibility would remain to the interreligious dialogue patiently pursued in recent years?”
The document noted that the “majority of Muslim religious and political institutions” have opposed the Islamic State’s avowed mission of restoring a caliphate, a sovereign Muslim state under Islamic law, to succeed the Ottoman Caliphate abolished after the founding of modern Turkey in 1923.
The Vatican listed some of the “shameful practices” recently committed by the “jihadists” of the Islamic State, which the U.S. government has classified as a terrorist group. Among the practices cited:
“The execrable practice of beheading, crucifixion and hanging of corpses in public places.”
“The choice imposed on Christians and Yezidis between conversion to Islam, payment of tribute or exodus.”
“The abduction of girls and women belonging to the Yezidi and Christian communities as war booty.”
“The imposition of the barbaric practice of infibulation,” or female genital mutilation.
“No cause can justify such barbarity and certainly not a religion,” the document said.
You can read the full statement here.
11 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Vatican War Iraqi Refugees Yazidi
Emil, a Catholic Iraqi refugee, hides his face during a posed photo at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Beirut on 8 August. The resident of Mosul, Iraq, fled his hometown with family members after receiving threats from Islamic State militants. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
In this image from 2009, Italian Archbishop Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, walks with a Swiss Guard at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Danilo Schiavella, pool via Reuters)
This morning, it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed a personal envoy to help Christians in Iraq:
Pope Francis is sending a cardinal to Iraq to help thousands of Christians fleeing the rapid advance of jihadis from the Islamic State (IS), the Vatican says.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, a former papal nuncio to the country, is being sent to Iraqi Kurdistan to show the pope’s “spiritual support and the church’s solidarity with the people who are suffering,” papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
He said Filoni would be departing soon but gave no date.
The Vatican has come in for criticism from Eastern Christians not doing more to help the persecuted minority, who are fleeing into the mountains alongside thousands of members of the minority Yazidi community in the face of a rapid advance north by Sunni extremists.
7 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
A Lebanese army soldier carries a young refugee fleeing the violence in Syria in the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, on 6 August. (photo: CNS/Hassan Abdallah, Reuters)
6 August 2014
Tags: Syria Lebanon Syrian Civil War Refugees
Chaldean Bishop Frank Kalabat carries a monstrance on 1 August as he leads nearly 1,000 Chaldean Catholics outside Mother of God Chaldean Church in Southfield, Michigan in praying for for persecuted Iraqi Christians. (photo: CNS/Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)
Chaldean Catholics in Michigan last week gathered to pray for suffering Christians in Iraq:
Standing in the sanctuary of Mother of God Chaldean Cathedral, flanked by an empty cross and two ominous red symbols, Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat led more than 1,000 people on 1 August in an earnest prayer for peace and a plea for help. The bright red symbols were the Arabic letter that stands for “Nassara” or “Nazarene” — meaning Christian, and they were ominous because Islamic militants have used the symbol to identify some 200,000 Iraqis singled out for an ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed. Painted on the targets’ houses, the symbol is intended by the militants to be a derogatory term. But Bishop Kalabat said he wears it with honor. “This is the latest image today of what has been endured for us as the cross,” he said, pointing to the wooden crucifix behind him. Bishop Kalabat, who in June was ordained the second bishop of the Southfield-based Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, urged those in attendance to keep their focus on Jesus, and to unite their sufferings with him. In a powerful address to the overflowing congregation, which included several local media outlets, Bishop Kalabat acknowledged the difficulty in forgiving those who unjustly persecute and kill Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. But the bishop said forgiveness does not mean Christians should not also pray and ask for justice, including from elected leaders. He called on the United Nations and international community to condemn the violence as genocide and said humanitarian aid was badly needed for Iraqi refugees, many of whom have found temporary protection from the Kurdish army after fleeing their homes in northern and central Iraqi cities such as Mosul.
To help provide humanitarian aid to Iraqi refugees, visit this link.
5 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi
The new Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and all Galilee, George Bakhouny, blesses those gathered for his installation in the Cathedral of Mar Elias in Haifa. (photo: Sami El-Yousef)
Tags: Israel Catholic Melkite Greek Catholic Church Holy Land Christians Melkite