11 May 2015
Eveet, an Iraqi Christian refugee woman kisses her baby girl during a group therapy session at a church hall in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Journalist Dale Gavlak reports on Iraqi Christians finding sanctuary in Jordan in the Spring 2015 issue of ONE — and offers some additional insight below.
I began covering the successive waves of refugees descending upon Jordan nearly 12 years ago. At that time, most Iraqis fled their country because the U.S.-led invasion and its turbulent aftermath of sectarian violence made parts of the embattled land — especially the capital, Baghdad — unsafe.
Among some of those who arrived in Jordan were Iraqi Christians, whose family members were kidnapped for ransom and sometimes brutally killed or whose neighborhoods and churches were targeted by suicide bombers.
Then came the Syrians — who for the most part are Sunni Muslim civilians fleeing terrible violence by both government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and extremist militants. Most Syrian Christians have escaped to Lebanon, rather than Jordan.
Both sets of refugees made the decision to leave their homes and countries due to spiraling, horrific violence and protracted war. The decisions were not made lightly. Many Syrians fled with just the clothes on their backs or carried a couple of plastic bags with their treasured items, thinking and hoping they would soon return home.
But with the Iraqi Christians, a different narrative is at play. Somehow, the despair and pain they feel and project seems deeper and rawer.
ISIS militants cruelly and brutally forced these original inhabitants of Mosul and the villages of the Ninevah Plain for the past 1,600 years out of their historic Christian heartland. Why should they recant their faith and that of their forefathers or be forced to pay a so-called protection tax? Why should they be run out of town by the sword? These are some of the questions they ponder.
An Iraqi Christian in his mid-60’s said it wasn’t just the fact that the extremists took over the businesses he had worked for his entire life. What really galled him was that a militant from Afghanistan was living in his home — a cherished house that had been in his family for generations.
The Christians were sometimes betrayed by their Muslim neighbors. The country’s own security forces failed to defend them in their hour of need.
Such betrayal is hard to come to grasp and difficult to overcome. Many say that is why — as much as they long to return to their beloved homes and land — they can never go back.
How will these refugees work out the Christian tenets of forgiveness and grace to combat the natural tendencies toward despair and bitterness in the face of such great loss? These are the challenges that loom as they ponder what kind of future awaits them and where.
One 10-year-old Iraqi girl, named Myriam, however, has made the decision to forgive her ISIS persecutors.
TV interviews with Myriam and the brother of two Egyptian laborers beheaded in Libya by the extremists — both voicing forgiveness — have been watched by at least one million viewers in the Arab world and are sparking positive social media comment.
A columnist in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar said the interview by the Christian SAT-7 network with Myriam “should be presented in Lebanese schools as a lesson in humanity.”
Sounds like members of ISIS should tune in.
For more, read “Finding Sanctuary in Jordan” in the Spring edition of ONE.
11 May 2015
A small shrine adorns the home of Marlene Dachache, who works as a nurse at a charity dispensary in Beirut, and her husband Joseph. The family has been struggling to make ends meet since the influx of Syrian refugees in the country. To read more, check out “Lebanon on the Brink” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
11 May 2015
In this image from 2014, Cardinal George Pell gestures as he leaves the extraordinary Synod of Bishops at the Vatican. The cardinal has praised efforts at dialogue between Christians and Jews on the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate. (photo: Paul Haring/CNS)
Cardinal praises efforts to Christians and Jews (Vatican Radio) Cardinal George Pell has praised the efforts of participants in an historic international gathering of Christian and Jewish leaders in Israel to mark the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate, on the Church’s relation to non-Christian religions...
Ukraine port braces for attack (Bloomberg) Ukraine’s eastern port of Mariupol is bracing for attack. Army vehicles rumble down streets, windows are fortified to shield against shell damage and signs pasted to apartment blocks point people to their nearest bomb shelter. Locals fear pro-Russian separatists will unleash an assault on their city now that President Vladimir Putin has finished hosting world leaders to mark the Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany. “Everyone’s talking about it,” said Iryna Hrynko, 40, a designer who arrived last year after fleeing the rebels’ Donetsk stronghold. “Friends back home even tell me about an attack...”
Iraq begins training Sunni fighters to battle ISIS (The Wall Street Journal) Iraq’s Shiite-led government has begun training Sunni tribal fighters here in the western province of Anbar, in an urgent U.S.-backed initiative to stem recent advances by Islamic State. The setbacks in Anbar have exposed the need for trusted and equipped Sunni fighters to help turn momentum against Islamic State and dry up the extremists’ pool of potential recruits. “When the government fails, people turn to Islamic State,” said Mohammad Abu Risha, a young tribal sheik from Anbar who commands 150 fighters. “The tribes don’t trust the government, and the government doesn’t trust the tribes...”
Suicide bombers attack hospital in Syria (AFP) Suicide bombers attacked a hospital in northwestern Syria on Sunday morning where around 250 soldiers and civilians have been trapped for two weeks, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels, including members of a branch of Al-Qaeda, stormed the complex in the town of Jisr al-Shughur, having already captured the surrounding area a fortnight ago. Harrowing pictures show the scale of the assault, with the suicide bomber’s car bomb sending fireballs and plumes of thick black smoke into the air. it is not yet known how many people were killed in the attack...
Russian Orthodox Church sends over a million dollars to Ukrainian refugees (Christian Telegraph) The Russian Orthodox Church sent Ukrainian refugees more than 75 million of rubles (nearly 1.5 million of dollars) during last 9 months, reports Christian Telegraph. “Last summer we organized the center of help for civilians of Ukraine. By 24 April 2015 we received more than 20,000 appeals from refugees,” stated Vladimir Legoida, Chairman of the Synodal Informational Department of the Russian Orthodox Church...
8 May 2015
Members of the Rifo family gather in their temporary dwelling in Sulimaniyeh, Iraqi Kurdistan,
in September 2014. (photo: Don Duncan)
Yesterday, CNEWA’s Communications Director, Michael J.L. La Civita, spoke at a conference, “The Islamic State’s Religious Cleansing and the Urgency of a Strategic Response,” hosted by the Hudson Institute in New York. He placed the present crisis in context:
Long before there was ISIS, civil war in Syria, an Arab Spring, Al Qaeda, the U.S. invasions of Iraq, civil war in Lebanon, and the Israeli-Arab conflict, Middle East Christians were on the move. Whether hiding from persecution by Jewish leaders, Roman emperors, Persian forces, Byzantine bishops, Muslim Arab invaders or Ottoman bureaucrats, the region’s Christians demonstrated agility, tenacity and the will to survive. As they moved from place to place — leaving behind their ancient centers of Antioch or Edessa — Middle East Christians preserved their identities, their cultures, their languages, their rites and their unique approaches to the one Christian faith. They reestablished their monasteries and convents, churches and schools from Beirut to Baghdad, prospering in the modern era even with the rise of ideological fanaticism and its destructive twin, intolerance.
But the sixth day of August 2014 will be forever seared into the psyches of all Middle East Christians. For on that day, maniacal extremists upended the lives of more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians, forcing them to flee their homes, leaving behind everything in a matter of minutes.
The human cost of the displacement of the Middle East’s Christians is tremendous. Although they may account for only about 5 percent of the region’s population — about 15.5 million people — Christians dominate the region’s middle classes, exercising prominence in the tourism industry, commercial and skilled labor sectors, and the civil service. And as they flee the extremists rapidly taking hold in the region, moderates from other communities follow, leaving behind those who cannot leave — the poor, the uneducated, the elderly and the infirmed — and those who stand to gain by fanning the flames of hate.
...The flight of Christians from the region is arduous and painfully slow. While hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes in Iraq and Syria, most exist in a sort of limbo, hunkering down with friends and family in safer areas of Lebanon, Syria’s Valley of the Christians, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan or Iraqi Kurdistan. Some 12,000 Syrian Armenian Christians have found refuge in Armenia, but few others have acquired the coveted visas necessary to emigrate to the Americas, Europe or Oceania, where most Middle Eastern Christians now live.
Just a few months into their exile, the Rifo family was not yet able to accept the possibility of emigration.
“We all agree that this is something we don’t want to think of,” said the matriarch of the family, Ibtihaj. “We will go back to our houses, even if the house is destroyed. Returning home is the only possibility we are thinking of and we don’t want to think of any other possibility.”
Her husband Nabil had different thoughts.
“Even if we go back to our houses, we have lost our sense of security,” he said, adding that some of his non-Christian neighbors and colleagues were responsible for the looting of abandoned Christian houses. Others joined ISIS.
“Will we ever return to normal?”
There is much more. Read the full speech at this link.
8 May 2015
Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pavlo Klimkin, receives a copy of ONE magazine from CNEWA’s Antin Sloboda during a meeting at the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottowa last week.
(photo: Vicki Karpiak)
Last week I had a chance to attend a meeting with Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa. Mr. Klimkin’s recent visit to Canada to a large extent was an expression of gratitude to the Ukrainian-Canadian community and Canadian government for taking a leadership position in supporting Ukraine in this time of crisis.
At the end of the meeting I presented him with the newest addition of CNEWA’s magazine ONE. The cover story of the magazine has an article by Mark Raczkiewycz, “Casualties of War,” about the suffering of Ukrainian people and the ways Catholic charities — including CNEWA — are providing support to the affected population on the ground.
Besides providing resources for the internally displaced and other people in need, CNEWA plays also a very important role in sharing with the English-speaking world objective information on the situation on the ground. The article by Mark Raczkiewycz is a good example of CNEWA’s multifaceted involvement.
Here’s another example. On 29 May, CNEWA Canada and the Ukrainian National Federation of Ottawa-Gatineau Branch are organizing a special event in Ottawa to raise funds for Ukraine’s internally displaced. The funds will go to CNEWA’s long-term partner Caritas Ukraine, the main humanitarian charity of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Right now Caritas Ukraine provides support to over 80,000 victims of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. If you can be in Ottawa on 29 May, please join us at this event. Tickets are still available.
If you cannot come to Ottawa, please still consider making a meaningful donation for the victims of war in Ukraine. Just visit this link for details. Thank you.
8 May 2015
Sister Ayelech chats with students during lunchtime at the Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. To read her account of her life and vocation, check out “A Letter from Ethiopia” in the Spring edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
8 May 2015
After fleeing Eastern Ukraine, this family has taken shelter in a rented house in Izum.
(photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
Journalist Mark Raczkiewycz reports on the plight of families displaced by war in Ukraine in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. Here, he explains the dread that now hangs over the people.
War will come back to the government-controlled area of Donetsk region this spring, six displaced people predicted during interviews in early March. It’s an inescapable foreboding that was constantly echoed from people who’ve lived through constant shelling, fear and stress once before.
“When Yenakieve became essentially a war zone, everything changed, nobody celebrated holidays, nobody was on the streets, it was very sad,” Ihor Horodilov, 55, told me outside the Svyatohirsk Monastery where he shares a room with six other men. “I didn’t think there would be war. I lived in peace all my life, I didn’t think it would come to this.”
The former bank security guard and others felt that Russian forces won’t stop. They had already taken Debaltseve after the third truce had taken effect in February. The city, with a pre-war population of 25,000, was leveled. It has now fewer than 7,000 residents, 5,000 of whom are estimated to be living underground in basements and improvised bunkers, according to a 6 March statement delivered by John Ging, operations director for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
When Ukrainian forces pulled back from the city and shelling ceased, Barbara Manzi, head of the UN’s OCHA office in Ukraine said that people in Debaltseve were so traumatized that they went “back to sleep in their dungeons believing that the violence would continue.”
In a sense it still does.
Two weeks before we visited Slovyansk to speak to a refugee from Donetsk City, Ukraine’s KGB-successor agency, the SBU, had detained two residents who were part of a network of informers for the separatists.
On the day we set off from Kharkiv, the vehicle of the commander of a special police battalion, Andriy Yanjolenko, exploded in the government-controlled eastern city. He and his spouse were inside the car and both were hospitalized with severe wounds.
Kharkiv and Odesa, both outside the combat zone, have been the scenes of a spate of mysterious bombings that Ukrainian authorities attribute to Russian special forces and their agents in Ukraine. The most powerful attack came on 22 February. An explosion killed four people and wounded 15 when a bomb detonated at the front of a pro-Kiev peaceful march to commemorate last year’s Euromaidan movement.
For these reasons, the atmosphere is tense. A 67-year-old pensioner from Donetsk, as well as the others, say they just want to live in peace regardless of who’s in charge.
“We’re afraid will return to Slovyansk,” said Lidia Usypenko. “If they (Russian forces) come, then let them do it peacefully without fighting.”
Read more in “Casualties of War” in the Spring edition of ONE.
8 May 2015
In the video above, a humanitarian worker in Syria decsribes the situation in his country.
(video: Rome Reports)
Caritas: pray for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital, has been on the front lines of the conflict there in recent weeks. Amnesty International this week slammed government and opposition forces for indiscriminate bombings targeting civilians, hospitals and schools...
Group with links to ISIS claims responsibility for attack in Gaza (Jerusalem Post) State ties claimed responsibility for a Friday mortar attack at a Hamas base in the Gaza Strip. According to AFP, witnesses at the scene said they heard explosions at the base, close to Khan Yunis. Information of any damage or injuries was not reported. The group, which calls itself “Supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Jerusalem,” said in an online statement that the rockets it fired were aimed at a base occupied by Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam...
Catholic charities impacted by “Francis effect” (CNS) Catholic charities around the world have no doubt about the reality of a “Francis effect” on their work. Because of the ongoing global economic crisis, most of the 164 national Catholic charities that form the Caritas Internationalis confederation report no significant increase in donations. However, the secretary-general of the Vatican-based network says Pope Francis has had a huge impact on their programs and priorities, on the number of volunteers and, especially, on their sharing...
Ethiopians held in Libya return home (BBC) A group of 35 Ethiopians who had been held in Libya have arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Officials welcomed them at the airport where they flew in from Egypt’s capital, Cairo. Ethiopia said their rescue was made possible “through co-ordinated effort” with the Egyptian government, but it is unclear who was holding them. More than 20 Ethiopians were killed in April by the Libyan branch of Islamic State, which filmed the executions...
7 May 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, center, celebrates Mass on 3 May for displaced Iraqis in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNS/John E. Kozar)
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and CNEWA president John E. Kozar concluded their pastoral visit to Iraq this week, and experienced first hand the profound faith and resilience of the country’s Christians:
The head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches visited Iraq to convey Pope Francis’ blessing and concern for Church officials and the displaced living and working in difficult circumstances.
In Dohuk, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri hugged children and comforted adults who expressed only one wish: to go back home. Pope Francis’ envoy left a few pictures of the pontiff that children held proudly, with large smiles. The displaced slept up to 20 per room, with baggage and cardboard boxes marking the space for each family. Carpets on the floor and an ever-running television were the only comforts for 60 families that share a few gas stoves and even fewer toilets.
At a Mass outside of a Syriac Catholic church in Erbil on 3 May, Sandri told Iraqis who had fled from Islamic State militants that their “hearts and lives had signs of the violence, persecution and dissemination that forced many to abandon their house in the plain of Ninevah, in Mosul, in Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) and in other villages, to find a safe shelter.”
The Mass’ main celebrant was by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, but Sandri preached. In his homily, he spoke of the massacre of Assyrians by the Ottoman Empire a century ago.
“We remain speechless,” he said, “before this violence and aggression, but mostly because the human heart seems to have learned nothing from the dramas that shook the 20th century and that continue today while shedding more innocent blood with a blind and destructive blindness.
“Your pastors, the Pope and the universal Church fear a general exodus from lands that have been Christian for 2,000 years,” he said.
Before going to Erbil, Sandri spent three days in Baghdad, where he met with Iraq’s president and prime minister. Iraq without Christians would not be Iraq anymore, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told him, echoing Pope Francis’ recurring declarations about the Middle East. President Fuad Masum told the cardinal he hoped the Pope would visit as soon as the situation will allow it.
In Erbil, Sandri met with about 10 members of ROACO, a coalition of funding agencies co-ordinated by the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Among them were the heads of French and German agencies as well as Aid to the Church in Need, the Holy Childhood Association and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. During the two days prior to that meeting, members of ROACO visited many camps with displaced people, trying to evaluate their needs.
Msgr. John Kozar, head of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told Catholic News Service that water is the “single most important reality” and is always in short supply.
“Even in the midst of extreme poverty and the complete lack of privacy and personal or family space, the refugees were so loving, welcoming and filled with gratitude and hope,” he said. “Some who had no kitchen or running water humbled us by offering us tea.”
During a meeting with the displaced in Ain Kawa, one man told the agency heads: “The only thing we want is to go back home.”
Then a girl named Tamara, 12, told them with a radiant face: “ISIS took everything, but we still have our faith in Jesus Christ, and they will never take it.”
7 May 2015
An oil over acrylic painting called "Burden" by Syrian artist Essa Neima.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Essa Neima)
A young Syrian painter named Essa Neima is translating the turmoil of his homeland into striking works of art:
At a recent exhibit, his oil on acrylic works ranged from depictions of damaged church and mosque mosaics, to a broken icon of Mary and a refugee woman forced into servitude by the need to survive.
Most of the paintings were strewn with the deep red color of blood.
“It is like treasure ... covered by blood because (of) what’s happening now, the sad events happening in Syria,” Neima told Catholic News Service in Washington, thousands of miles from his country, where conflict has killed nearly 200,000 people and dispersed about 10 million others, according to U.N. Estimates.
...He said he hoped his paintings would encourage more Americans to stand up against the war and to learn more about Syria’s rich heritage and culturally diverse society, often overlooked in U.S. news outlets, which he claimed were simplifying his country’s conflict.
“My message from this art show (is) to be a little bit optimistic about the situation and see things you don’t see it in the media,” Neima said.
“If I will watch (U.S.) media ... I see just three parties: There is a government, there is a free army and there are the extremists, and you think that there (are) just three parties and they are killing each other. The reality is there (are) a lot of people (who) care just to live peacefully. They just want their life to be safe, or they want to raise kids, or to have jobs, like the normal life.”
But even Neima seemed hard-pressed to understand how a conflict so violent could erupt in multicultural Syria, where he said he counted many friends from among the Arab country’s predominantly Muslim population.
“The Syrian society, when I was living there, was ... a liberal society. It wasn’t like I support the extremists because I am Muslim, or like because I am Christian I will belong to so and so ... there was not this category,” Neima said.
He said he had lived in Washington since 2012 and was teaching art at the University of the District of Columbia, but wanted eventually to return to Syria, where his parents and seven siblings still live, “when the conflict is over” and “everyone there accepts the other ... and lives in peace.”
To learn how you can support the suffering people of Syria, visit this giving page.