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December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
6 August 2014
Greg Kandra

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.

Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi

6 August 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

The Chermera (or “40 Men”) Temple, a Yazidi holy site, occupies the highest peak of the Sinjar mountains in northern Iraq. (photo: an American soldier from the 334th Signal Company, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, April 2004)

Iraqi Yazidis stranded on isolated mountaintop begin to die of thirst (Washington Post) Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst. Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children…

Iraq’s Islamists have vowed to wipe out the Yazidis (Christian Science Monitor) The arrival of the Islamic State (IS) in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar over the weekend sent the native religious minority fleeing. Yazidis, labeled by IS (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS) “devil worshippers,” have a long history of persecution. Who are the Yazidis? Yazidis (sometimes spelled Yezidis), belong to an ethno-religious group which predates Islam and has roots in Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic religion that developed in ancient Persia around 600 B.C. (an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the estimated time of the faith’s founding). Yazidis have been described as a “Kurdish heterodox group,” meaning that they’re ethnic Kurds, but outside the mainstream of the community and culture…

Baghdad: Iraqi Christians and Muslims pray together for peace and freedom (AsiaNews) Amid tragedy, Iraq’s Christians and Muslims came together to pray for peace. With the slogan “There is no Iraq without Christians,” St. George Church in Baghdad hosted a meeting last night, an opportunity to meet on the eve of the feast of the Transfiguration and the World Day of Prayer for Iraq, celebrated today. Muslim civil society leaders, officials from Baghdad and neighboring cities, Christian leaders and ordinary believers gathered in the church to pray for peace and revive the desire for “unity and solidarity” in the country…

Syrians left to fend for themselves as world agenda focuses on Gaza (Haaretz) If June was Iraq’s month, July belongs to the Palestinians, even though that month saw hundreds die in Iraq and over 1,500 Syrians killed in a single week in July — slightly higher than the Palestinian death toll. Syria, though, has been pushed to the bottom of the world’s list of priorities. No new diplomatic endeavors were launched to solve the crisis there this month. The international commissions discussing the Syrian civil war have gone on summer recess. The American aid totaling a half a billion dollars for the rebels is waiting for Congress’ approval. With over 3 million refugees the humanitarian crisis is far from a solution. Even the fact that the Islamic State has taken over parts of Syria and Iraq is quickly becoming the accepted as the new reality…

Tens of thousands of besieged Syrians receive food aid for first time (U.N. News Center) More people in besieged and difficult-to-reach areas of Syria are getting food due to a Security Council resolution approved last month that allows delivery trucks to more easily cross borders and conflict lines, the United Nations emergency food agency today confirmed. The U.N. World Food Program said it has made “significant progress” over the previous few weeks, reaching 3.7 million people in July. More than 300,000 of those people are in hard-to-reach areas, said spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs, a figure that is “twice the number of people reached using cross-line convoys in June…”

Gaza: Israeli-Palestinian indirect talks begin in Cairo (BBC) Indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives are taking place in the Egyptian capital Cairo. They come after a four-week conflict in Gaza that has claimed more than 1,900 lives. Egyptian mediators are shuttling between the two delegations, relaying each side’s demands. A 72-hour truce is now in its second day in Gaza, the longest lull in fighting since the conflict began on 8 July…

Bloody clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia over disputed territory (The Guardian) The presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia are expected to meet for talks this week to try to calm tensions over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh after some of the bloodiest clashes since the two sides signed a ceasefire in 1994. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said 14 of its soldiers had been killed in multiple confrontations, which began on 30 July. According to Azeri news agency APA, Armenian reconnaissance groups tried to cross the contact line along the border, and Azeri armed forces responded…

Tags: Syria Iraq Israeli-Palestinian conflict Iraqi Refugees Yazidi

5 August 2014
Greg Kandra

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 Holy Land Christians Melkite Greek Catholic Church Melkite

5 August 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Tens of thousands of people from the Yazidi community fled their homes in northern Iraq on Sunday, after Islamic militants attacked the towns of Sinjar and Zunmar. (video: USA Today)

Islamic extremists impose reign of terror on Iraq (U.S.A. Today) Police cars have been repainted to say “Islamic police.” Women are forbidden from wearing bright colors and prints. The homes of Shiites and others have signs stating they are property of the Islamic State. And everyone walks in fear amid a new reign of terror. This is what life is like in Mosul, Tikrit and other cities in northern and western Iraq under the control of Islamic extremists after their lightning-fast military campaign that overwhelmed the Iraqi army in June…

Displaced Iraqi Christians from Mosul face humanitarian crisis (Vatican Radio) The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has called for an end to the violent persecution of Iraqi Christians that threatens to extinguish their community. The bishops are also urging Catholics to join in a global day of prayer for Iraq’s Christians taking place on Wednesday, 6 August…

Baghdad patriarch: Iraqi Christian tragedy rooted in superpowers’ selfishness (AsiaNews) The international community and the world’s superpowers must realize the need for “concrete actions of solidarity” for Iraqi Christians because the “very survival” of the minority in the country and in middle East is at stake, said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad in a message to Pope Francis, eastern patriarchs and the presidents of bishops’ conferences. Faced with a never-ending tragedy, the patriarch of Baghdad addresses directly world powers, asking them to drop their “self-interest” and join together to achieve a “peaceful political solution” that alone can put an end to the conflict…

Gaza: No place to bury the dead (Al Jazeera) Corpses of dead Palestinians have overwhelmed morgues at Rafah’s hospitals, and relatives have been left with no option but to keep their loved-ones in commercial refrigerators. At the city’s Kuwaiti hospital on Monday, a stream of ambulances negotiated its way through crowds of medical staff and families, delivering bodies to be laid out on the gravel outside the building…

Gaza war stifles democracy in Israel (Al Monitor) The current Israel-Hamas conflict has generated an aggressive political patriotic discourse in Israel that has taken a heavy toll on Israeli democracy, in which those who dare to oppose the operation are expected to keep silent…

The quest to save Syria’s history (Der Spiegel) While the civil war in Syria has killed tens of thousands of people, it has also destroyed countless of the country’s ancient treasures. Now a number of Syrians are trying to save what artifacts they can — and are risking their lives to do so…

Tags: Iraq Syrian Civil War Iraqi Christians Cultural Identity Israeli-Palestinian conflict

4 August 2014
Sami El-Yousef

George Ayyad stands by his son, Jeries, of Gaza, in the intensive care unit of St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem on July. Since the death of his wife in an Israeli missile attack on their house in Gaza City in late July, Ayyad has been keeping vigil over his son, who is in critical condition. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Days of hope have given way to frustration and despair. We thought today we would see a ceasefire agreement take hold between the two sides, but after a few hours, a tentative truce very quickly broke down. Another escalation is underway in Gaza, each side blaming the other for breaking the ceasefire agreement.

On Friday, a group representing the main Christian organizations operating in the region visited St. Joseph Hospital and the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem to get an update about the injured who have been transferred from Gaza due to the lack of proper facilities there. One of the cases is Jeries Ayyad (whom I wrote about earlier this week) whose mother was the first Christian victim in Gaza.

What I saw in the two hospitals is beyond imagination, and one only wonders about the kind of life these people will have should they recover, with amputated legs and arms and many with brain damage from shrapnel. There may be thousands like them who are not fortunate enough to make it to Jerusalem for better treatment.

On a more positive note, I am pleased our appeals to Europe have been heard. A number of our friends — including Manos Unidas, Spain; Embrace the Middle East in England; Caritas Switzerland; the Archdiocese of Cologne; Kinderhilfe Bethlehem in Switzerland; Kindermissionswerk in Germany; Missio and Misereor of Germany; Secours Catholique in France; Church in Need and Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem — have all expressed interest and most have pledged support. All the contributions were made for CNEWA’s emergency phase, including medicines, fuel and medical treatments. Additionally, a few donors have urged us to submit specific proposals for the psychosocial intervention, which will be post-war.

This is an area where the need is great — and will only grow in the weeks ahead. Countless men, women and children will be suffering the after-effects of this conflict for a long time to come; for too many, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and a host of other problems will linger and need treatment. Some wounds are invisible and deep. We are asking our donors in North America to prayerfully consider whatever they can offer at this time to help these people heal.

It is important to point out that we are coordinating the activities of various Catholic and non-Catholic agencies on the ground, hosting regular meetings at our office in Jerusalem. We have distributed our relief activities as follows: CNEWA will concentrate on provision of medicines, fuel and medical treatments in this emergency phase; Caritas Jerusalem is providing food packages and cash assistance; and Catholic Relief Services is assisting with the provision of non-food, hygiene packages and medical supplies. Thus, we are complementing our works to benefit as many people as possible. And, as always, CNEWA’s activities are implemented through the local church and its institutions.

Thank you for your continued support, and please keep the injured in your prayers.

To donate to our emergency fund and help those families in need today, please visit this page.

Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Violence against Christians War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief

4 August 2014
Greg Kandra

In this photo taken on Friday, Pope Francis meets the four sisters and three brothers of Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, missing since last year and presumed kidnapped in northern Syria. The pope met the family at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, where they all joined the Jesuit community for lunch. (photo via CNS, courtesy Infosj, Rome)

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Priests Syrian Catholic

4 August 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

Lebanese religious leaders pray during a 24 July sit-in in Beirut to express solidarity with the Iraqi Christians of Mosul and against Israel’s military action in Gaza. A prominent Syrian Christian political leader has warned of an impending assault on Syria’s northeastern province of Hassake amid reports that thousands of Islamist fighters are preparing to take control of the predominantly Christian and Kurdish area. (photo: CNS/Sharif Karim, Reuters)

Syrian rebels raid Lebanese border town (Christian Science Monitor) Syrian rebels killed ten Lebanese troops and likely captured over a dozen more in a raid on a Lebanese border town, the country’s military chief said, the most serious spillover of violence yet into the tiny country from its neighbor’s civil war…

Thousands displaced from Arsal (Daily Star Lebanon) At least 3,000 families from Arsal have been displaced so far in clashes between Islamist militants and the Lebanese Army, which began Saturday, the mayor of Labweh, Ramez Amhaz estimated. The Daily Star spoke to one Lebanese family, who asked not to be named, as they were fleeing the town. “The militants were letting the civilians out this morning, and we left with the wave of people. There was firing by our house last night,” said the father…

Islamic State seizes Sinjar, pushing out Kurds and sending Yazidis fleeing (Washington Post) The ancient northern Iraqi town of Sinjar emptied Sunday, with thousands of people fleeing on foot as Sunni extremist militants made their first significant punches through the defenses of overstretched Kurdish forces. Sinjar is an ancestral home of the long-persecuted Yazidi religious sect, which the Islamic State has branded as devil worshipers, and few of its residents stayed to find out what was planned for them when the group’s militants entered Sunday…

Baghdad patriarch: ‘brotherhood and solidarity’ the only way forward (AsiaNews) In Iraq today, we need “brotherhood and solidarity” in order for “our troubled nation” to be able to “overcome the current crisis,” which has “thrown terrible sufferings and insurmountable privations at thousands of innocent people in great difficulty,” said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad in a message sent to AsiaNews and published for World Day of Prayer for Iraq…

Israel declares partial Gaza ceasefire but fighting goes on in Rafah (The Guardian) Israel has declared a seven-hour “humanitarian window” in Gaza to start at 10 a.m. local time amid international outrage at the third deadly attack on a U.N. school sheltering displaced Palestinians and mounting pressure for the bloodshed to end. The Israeli army has exempted the area around the southern town of Rafah, where the U.N. school was struck on Sunday and fighting was continuing…

Bereaved Israeli, Palestinian families call to stop war (Al Monitor) Ben Kfir speaks calmly, but he has already been dealt a terrible blow by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A Hamas suicide bomber murdered his daughter Yael in an attack near the Tzrifin military base in 2003. A bereaved father living 10 miles from the Gaza Strip, in a Qassam-stricken town, he took the stage on the night of 26 July at the Rabin Square rally and said: “Our prime minister never misses an opportunity to stand in front of every microphone and say that the terror infrastructure must be destroyed, and I certainly agree with him. But I believe that Hamas is not the infrastructure of terrorism. The infrastructure is poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, despair and the basic absence of security. These are not things the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] can handle, and as my 8-year-old granddaughter says, ‘One doesn’t put out fire with fire…’ ”

Tags: Iraq Lebanon Syrian Civil War War Israeli-Palestinian conflict

1 August 2014
Judith Sudilovsky

Sister Muna Totah, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, treats Karim Nofal, 15, of Gaza, at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem on 30 July. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

With close to a quarter of a million Palestinians rendered homeless by the continuing and intensifying fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, the Coordinating Catholic Aid Organizations met three times in as many days to organize action to confront the humanitarian crisis.

In addition to the current material needs — food, water, personal hygiene items, medicine and diesel fuel for generators — the Catholic aid associations from the Holy Land, U.S. and Europe are beginning to plan for the psychosocial needs of Gazans at the eventual end to the confrontation.

“We are talking about a massive number of people who will be in need of help, and of at least 200,000 children who will need intervention,” said Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Jerusalem Office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

CNEWA ran such a program after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2012, he said.

In addition, he said, lack of drinking water has become a critical issue with the bombing of Gaza’s only electrical power plant, which has left the area largely without electricity for pumping water and sewage treatment. Diesel fuel is urgently needed for generators while milk for young children is also in short supply, he said.

CNEWA had been supplying the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital with fuel for the generator for intermittent power outages, but after the attack on the power plant in late July, the hospital was left without any fuel and had to shut down all operations, said El-Yousef, who received a phone call from the hospital in the middle of the night. The next day he was able to provide the hospital with funds to purchase more fuel. The hospital needs some 500-600 liters of fuel per day now because the generator is its only source of power, said El-Yousef.

The unsanitary conditions in the streets are also causing illnesses, and El-Yousef said many children are coming to the hospital with cases of malnutrition, diarrhea and fever. The hospital is also treating many of those injured, he said. Other clinics are located in dangerous areas and have been shut down almost from the start of the hostilities, he said.

“It is really desperate,” he said.

Though there are medicines available in Gaza, there is a shortage of medications in the hospitals because people and institutions have used up their credit lines, and cash to purchase them is not available, El-Yousef said. CNEWA has been able to give written financial assurances to the banks, enabling the hospital to make necessary purchases, he said.

“Every day the situation is getting worse and people are reluctant to move outside,” said El-Yousef.

Catholic Relief Services’ country representative in Jerusalem, Matthew McGarry, credited the “heroic” staffers in Gaza for their continued dedication in distributing aid kits to those most in need during lulls in the fighting. Several of the staff members have lost family members, and others are now homeless but have continued to work to provide for others, he said.

“They are a committed, selfless team,” he said. “They are doing God’s work.”

In the last week of July, CRS supplied 500 families with nonfood kits, which included things like cooking sets, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene kits, water storage buckets and solar powered lanterns. Staffers normally would have been able to distribute 500 packages per day but could not because of the precarious situation, McGarry said.

He said CRS was in the process of procuring and distributing another 2,500 such aid packages and was working to get medical relief supplies via the U.S. Agency for International Development.

McGarry said people were desperate, and on 30 July the staff halted distribution when dozens of people who had not been registered came to the distribution point demanding the packages. Their details were taken and CRS will look to see if they fit the CRS criteria: people whose homes have been destroyed and who are not receiving any other assistance, said McGarry.

He said staffers have been able to procure some of the supplies locally, which helps Palestinians, while other supplies came from USAID shipments through the Israeli border, in coordination with Israeli authorities, he said.

“The situation is increasingly desperate and catastrophic,” he said. “The numbers are so huge and the needs so enormous.”

To lend much-needed assistance to the suffering families of Gaza, click here.

Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Health Care Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief

1 August 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2007, a child greets visitors to the ancient Muslim city of Harar in Ethiopia. (photo: Cody Christopulos)

In 2007, we paid a visit to a remarkable corner of Ethiopia:

Imagine our surprise when, as we approached the outer walls of this, one of the holiest cities in the Islamic world, we were greeted by a booming call to prayer — from an Orthodox church. Famously, there are more than 90 mosques and shrines in this walled city, which occupies an area less than a square mile. But there are churches, too. …

For much of its history, Harar was a world center of commerce and Islamic culture. Though eclipsed on the world stage long ago, Harar remains a vibrant, multicultural city.

Christianity came to Ethiopia early: In the year 330 — 29 years after Armenia, and some 60 years before Rome — the Ethiopian king of Aksum declared Christianity the official religion of the state. Ethiopia’s distinctive form of Christianity, particularly its links with Judaism, has helped forge a unique culture that has survived intact for more than 1,800 years.

Read more about Ethiopia’s Forbidden City in the July 2007 edition of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Christian-Muslim relations Islam Ethiopian Christianity

1 August 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

A handout picture made available by the official government Syrian Arab News Agency in May shows Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III walking with a Christian and Muslim delegation during a visit to the old city of Homs, Syria. (photo: CNS/EPA)

With Syria buried in the news, hopes fade for ending world’s bloodiest war (Al Jazeera) Syria’s civil war is buried beneath the headlines these days, as Israeli forces pound the Gaza Strip, Ukraine struggles with the downing of a 300-passenger commercial jet, and much of Iraq is taken over by Al Qaeda-inspired extremists. Libya, meanwhile, is literally going up in flames. Even with 1,400 Gazans killed over the past few weeks, Syria has not lost its mantle as home to the world’s deadliest conflict. During a ten-day stretch in mid-July, a record 1,800 people were killed, as the death toll from three years of fighting climbs past 170,000…

Syrian city of Homs shows signs of life amid moonscape of devastation (The Guardian) In Damascus, the ministry of information, which controls visas and access for foreign media, is keen to approve trips to Homs, where developments broadly fit the official grand narrative of a return to normality, stability and the start of reconstruction — and of course the victory claimed by Assad. Opposition activists now living elsewhere reject the government’s upbeat narrative. “Homs is a city of horror,” said Razan, whose Sunni family was involved in the mass protests of April 2011 and suffered in the subsequent army offensive and repression…

Assyrians leaving Hassake for fear of ISIS (AINA) The Assyrian population of Hassakah, Syria is leaving the region because of threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to a report by the Adnkronos News Agency (AKI). Citing an official from the Assyrian Democratic Organization, AKI reports that the Christian Assyrian residents are abandoning their lands and homes because of fear that what happened in Mosul will happen here…

Israeli soldier captured, 50 Palestinians dead as cease-fire collapses (Al Jazeera) A 72-hour Gaza cease-fire crumbled only hours after it began Friday, with at least 50 Palestinians killed by Israeli shelling and Israel saying one of its soldiers may have been abducted. Israel also accused Gaza fighters of violating the U.S.- and U.N.-brokered truce by firing rockets and mortars…

Patriarch Fouad Twal: Truce will not help if Gaza remains a desperate prison (Fides) “The truce which has begun is a good thing, but it will not help if the conditions in Gaza remain those of a desperate land under siege, where only fear and frustration that feed hatred can grow,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem in a conversation with Fides. According to the patriarch, the structural conditions that feed blind hatred, starting from the embargo, must be removed…

Iraqis living under Isis rule in Mosul begin to show resistance (The Guardian) Iraqis living under Isis rule in Iraq, where non-Sunni residents have been forced from their homes and tens of mosques have been deemed idolatrous and marked for destruction, have started to push back against the extreme interpretation of Islam being imposed on them. With at least 8,000 years of continuous habitation, Mosul is considered an archeological treasure, with many heritage sites belonging to all religions and sects. Dubbed “small Iraq”, people from a range of religions and ethnicities have lived side by side peacefully for centuries. This solidarity remains in evidence through in these difficult times…

Tags: Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Syrian Civil War War Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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