22 August 2014
People displaced by violence sit outside St. Joseph Chaldean Church in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 14 August. (photo: CNS/courtesy Aid to the Church in Need-USA)
A glimpse at the life of Iraqis on the run, from CNS:
A group of 11 sick, disabled and elderly Iraqi Christians — including an 80-year-old woman with breast cancer — defied terrorists who ordered them to convert to Islam or be beheaded, saying they preferred death to giving up their faith.
The united resistance prompted the Islamic State extremists to drop their demands and order the Christians to immediately leave their village of Karamless after first robbing them of their possessions, according to one of the survivors.
Sahar Mansour, a refugee from Mosul, told Catholic News Service in an 18 August email that the group turned up at Ain Kawa refugee camp, where she is living, after they were released by the Islamist fighters. They had remained behind in Karamless because they were too weak to flee when the town was overrun by Islamic State militants.
Mansour said she met the 80-year-old woman with cancer, who gave her name as Ghazala, in Ain Kawa on 18 August and heard her account of their escape.
“When the people of Karamless fled from the village they [the elderly] were alone,” Mansour said. “She [Ghazala] told me when they woke up in [the] morning they were surprised when they saw nobody in the village.”
Instead they were “afraid and terrified,” she continued, when they met masked fighters from the Islamic State, who ordered them to go home and remain indoors.
Mansour said Ghazala told her that on 16 August, the terrorists assembled the group “and told them either to convert or to be killed by sword.”
“Ghazala told me that all the people told the terrorists that ’we prefer to be killed rather than convert,’ ” Mansour said. She said Ghazala added that members of the group scolded the terrorists for ignoring Islamic sacred texts that forbade forced conversions of non-Muslims.
Mansour said the elderly told the militants that the Islamic State had nothing to gain from the conversion of a group of sick, disabled and elderly people.
“When ISIS heard that they told the people to leave Karamless immediately, without taking anything, to leave with only with the clothes they were wearing,” she said.
Please keep those Iraqis in flight in your prayers. And to help those in need, visit our giving page for Iraqi Christians under siege.
21 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief
Jerry and her friends in an Ethiopian refugee camp prepare for a dance recital.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures)
In a web exclusive for the Summer edition of ONE, we get a rare glimpse inside refugee camp run by Jesuits in Ethiopia:
Elsa was lying down, exhausted. Her daughter was working on the dough for ambasha, a local variety of Ethiopian bread. The hut contained little — just a few cooking materials and two beds made of mud attached to the mud floor.
Though tired from her rigorous daily routine — which includes collecting firewood every day for cooking in an ongoing struggle to keep her three daughters fed — Elsa warmly welcomed us, insisting on offering us coffee.
As we talked over our coffee, we were surprised at her optimism...
Elsa’s face brightened as she told us about [her daughter] Jerry’s performance at a program for music and the performing arts at the camp. From an early age, Elsa told us, Jerry had proven to be a talented dancer and performer.
Now in her mid-30’s, Elsa explains that she herself had a great passion for music and dance when she was young, and is delighted to see her daughter share that passion. This was one of the reasons behind Elsa’s determination to hang on to life — Jesuit Refugee Service [J.R.S.] has helped her keep her hopes alive.
Jerry is one of the many young people living in the Mai-Aini Refugee Camp taking classes at the J.R.S. program for music and the performing arts. Besides music, J.R.S. is also engaged in providing five other types of psychosocial support for children. These programs, which benefit not only the children, but the extended families living in the camp, include counseling, sports and recreational activities, theater and library services.
Read more of this web exclusive in our virtual online edition of the magazine. And to learn how you can support the work CNEWA is doing with J.R.S. in Ethiopia, visit our giving page.
20 August 2014
Tags: Ethiopia ONE magazine Refugee Camps
Villagers gather for a candlelit satsang outside a house in a small village in Bhikkawala.
(photo: John Mathew)
The Summer edition of ONE is now online, and one of the stories focuses on the plight of the Dalits — or so-called “untouchables” in India — who, despite obstacles and difficulties, convert to Christianity:
A Sanskrit term, Dalit denotes the former “untouchable” groups in India’s multilayered caste system that segregates people on the basis of their birth. According to the 2011 national census, one in six Indians belong to this caste; in Uttar Pradesh, now home to Mahinder Singh, some 20 percent of the state’s nearly 200 million people belong to this group. And though Mahatma Gandhi called the Dalits “harijan” (children of God) and the Indian constitution bans caste discrimination, those once identified as such continue to lag behind, socially and economically.
The Indian government recognizes and protects Dalits, but Mr. Singh cannot claim any benefits; his community, Rai Sikh, is not listed as a scheduled caste in Uttar Pradesh. Nor may Mr. Singh appeal this status, as the special concessions for those of low-caste origin are restricted only to Dalits who identify as Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs.
Mr. Singh accepted baptism as a Christian 12 years ago.
“I have wandered all my life for happiness and finally found peace in the Lord,” he says, standing tall and wiry despite a slight stoop.
Dalit Christians and Muslims are excluded from any concessions under the pretext that Christianity and Islam do not recognize the caste system. For the past 65 years, churches have been fighting to redress this injustice, saying it violates the Indian constitution’s prohibition of discrimination based on religion, caste or gender.
But Mr. Singh is not alone. He belongs to a community of hundreds of Syro-Malabar Dalits united within the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Bijnor, which includes Uttarakhand state and the Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh.
He and his wife, Preetam Kaur, live in a small village in an area known as Gangapar, a few miles from the eparchy’s newest parish, St. Alphonsa, founded in July 2013. Theirs is a story of both purpose and perseverance. Despite tremendous obstacles, the parish community has managed to thrive, buoyed by a fervent and unshakable faith.
Read more about the Dalits in the Summer edition of ONE.
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.
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees