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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
11 August 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

An Iraqi refugee prays the rosary at a Chaldean church in Amman, Jordan.
(photo: CNS/Ali Jarekji, Reuters)

Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, 1.5 million Christians accounted for nearly 6 percent of Iraq’s population, down from about 12 percent in the World War II-era. While hard figures are unavailable, fewer than 200,000 Christians — only 1 percent — remain in Iraq today. Many of these Christians are displaced Chaldeans, members of an ancient church who share the history and traditions of the Church of the East yet profess full communion with the church of Rome.

The word Chaldean identifies this Catholic community with an ancient people who once controlled Mesopotamia, the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (modern Iraq and portions of Syria and Turkey). Chaldeans take pride in their ancient roots, counting Abraham of Ur of the land of the Chaldeans — whom Jews, Christians and Muslims call their father in faith — as one of their own.

This pedigree has not protected them for the ferocity unleashed in the Middle East, particularly in the last few decades, driving many Chaldeans to the West. In 1990, according to official Chaldean records, only 50,000 Chaldean Catholics lived in North America, shepherded by one bishop in a Detroit suburb. Today, nearly 200,000 Chaldean Catholics live on the continent, with bishops in Detroit, San Diego and Toronto.

Not just the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia is also the cradle of the Christian faith. In its fertile soil, the seeds of Christianity took root quickly and eventually spread like wildflowers throughout Asia. The early years of the church were tumultuous. Because the church became intimately linked to the state, especially in the Mediterranean world, questions regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ were politicized. As the church embraced converts from the Greco-Roman and Semitic worlds, these Christological questions were exacerbated by cultural and linguistic differences. These issues, coupled with the frequent wars between the eastern Roman (that is, Byzantium) and Persian empires, compromised the position of the church in Mesopotamia, which styled itself the “Church of the East.” As a result, by the late fifth century, this Church of the East parted ways with the rest of the Christian world.

Chaldean Catholics receive Holy Communion at a liturgy in a destroyed church in Baghdad. (photo: Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, the Church of the East became renowned for its scholarship, especially in grammar, history, logic, mathematics, philosophy and theology. Arab Muslims, who conquered the Persian Empire in 634, employed church scholars, who are largely responsible for the Arab world’s familiarity with ancient Greek astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy — disciplines that eventually reached Europe.

At its height in the 14th century, the Church of the East spanned most of Asia and included some 30 metropolitan sees and more than 200 eparchies. But the church’s successes were nearly destroyed overnight when, at the end of the 14th century, Timur the Lame and his army invaded the Middle East, sacked its cities, massacred the inhabitants and leveled what remained. Those Christians who escaped death or enslavement retreated into the mountains, hunkering down in remote monasteries and mountainside villages.

Even as isolation intensified, pockets of the church came into contact with Latin Catholic missionaries. In 1445, friars received the Chaldeans (as they were known) living on the island of Cyprus into full communion with Rome. The use of “Chaldean” dates to this union. Subsequently, individual communities and families of the Church of the East formed pro-Catholic or anti-Catholic parties, marking centuries of turmoil as families and factions jockeyed back and forth.

The papacy did not recognize a Catholic patriarch until 1830, and for the next 150 years — despite the atrocities during World War I — the Chaldean Church strengthened its position at the expense of the Church of the East. The seat of the patriarch moved from Mosul to Baghdad in 1950 as large numbers of Chaldean Catholics settled in the capital. Well educated and industrious, the Chaldeans eventually constituted a significant portion of Iraq’s middle and professional classes.

While the unraveling of Iraq has decimated the nation’s Christian communities of all rites and traditions, it has intensified collaboration between the two historic churches; relations between the Chaldean Church and the Church of the East have improved dramatically.

Read here a full account of the Chaldean Church from ONE magazine.

11 August 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2013, Michal Reich and her husband, Doro, sit with their children, Benny and month old Josephine, in their home in Jerusalem. They are among a small but devoted group of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem. (photo: Debbie Hill)

In 2013, we took readers inside the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Jerusalem. This week, the vicar responsible for that community, the Rev. David Neuhaus, S.J., has written a letter to mark the group’s 60th anniversary. An excerpt:

We are all invited to reflect on the fact that God Almighty has planted the seed of faith in Christ deep in the soil of both Palestinian (and Arab) and Israeli societies. Does this have significance for the vocation of Christ’s disciples who, though separated by walls of enmity because of the ongoing conflict, are united by their faith in Christ? The words of the Apostle take on new meaning in our context, “For (Christ) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Ephesians 2:14-16).

Brought together, despite the walls of enmity, because “He is our peace,” Hebrew speaking and Arabic speaking disciples of Christ are called to show that justice, peace and equality are possible in our land. Our lives of faith must reveal the alternatives to war and violence, contempt and discrimination, engaging the other as brother and sister. Disciples of Christ can constitute a bridge between the Palestinian (and Arab) and Israeli worlds. We cannot assent to injustice and must be sensitive to injustice wherever it is present, especially in our own society. As disciples of Christ, we must also preach pardon as we have an intimate personal experience of being pardoned although we are sinners.

You can read the full letter here.

And to learn more about Hebrew-speaking Catholics, check out “Hebrew Spoken Here” from the Spring 2013 edition of ONE.

11 August 2015
Greg Kandra

A burned-out section of the Benedictine Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, Israel, is seen after an arson fire in late June. The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land filed an official complaint to Israeli police against the leader of a radical Israeli movement over his remarks supporting and encouraging the burning of churches.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Catholic Church in Jerusalem)

Jewish extremist said to pose threat to Holy Land Christians (RNS) The church body authorized by the Vatican to oversee the Catholic Church’s property in Israel has asked Israel’s attorney general to indict a Jewish extremist who, it says, recently incited violence against Israel’s Christian churches. In a letter sent to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Sunday, the Custody of the Holy Land said Benzion Gopstein, sometimes spelled “Gopshtein,” head of the Jewish extremist group Lehava, poses a threat to Holy Land Christians...

Hebrew-speaking Catholic community marks 60 years (Vatican Radio) Father David Neuhaus S.J., the Latin Patriarchal Vicar responsible for the Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel, has written a pastoral letter on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Work of Saint James in 1955 as a Catholic association dedicated to developing Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities in the State of Israel...

Iraq’s parliament approves reform plan (The New York Times) Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved an ambitious reform plan that would cut spending and eliminate senior posts, including the three largely symbolic vice presidencies, following mass protests against corruption and poor services...

U.N.: Funding prospects “bleak” for Syrian refugees (AP) Funding prospects are “bleak” and impoverished Syrian refugees face more cuts in food aid, the head of the World Food Program said in an interview, after inspecting the bare refrigerator of a refugee family and meeting boys forced to swap school for work to help their families survive. Ertharin Cousin, the U.N. agency’s executive director, called on donor countries to give more to millions displaced by the Syria conflict, now in its fifth year...

Ukraine bans 38 Russian “hate” books (BBC) Ukraine has banned 38 books published in Russia, alleging that they spread “hate ideology” and “separatism.” The ban includes works by Russian nationalists Alexander Dugin, Eduard Limonov and Sergei Glazyev. The blacklist was published by the Ukrainian State Television and Radio Committee. It accused Russia of waging “information warfare” against Ukraine...

Christians, Muslims observe “Black Day” in India (Vatican Radio) Christians and Muslims in Delhi on Monday observed “Black Day” to mark the 65th anniversary of signing of a presidential order that excluded their Dalit brethren from reservation. Some 200 people wore black badges and demonstrated in front of New Delhi’s Sacred Heart Cathedral to demand the repeal of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) order India’s first president Rajendra Prasad signed on 10 August 1950...

Tags: Syria India Iraq Ukraine Israel

10 August 2015
D.E. Hedges

Sister Lilly Chirayath sits with some of the children at the “House of Hope” in New Delhi.
(photo: CNEWA)

Name: Sister Lilly Chirayath C.H.F.
Order: Holy Family Congregation
Facility: Holy Family Asha Niwas
Location: New Delhi, India

In India’s poorest urban districts, homeless girls often wander the streets. They’re unwanted and vulnerably alone. It’s a grim reality that Sister Lilly Chirayath, her fellow sisters, and their staff are working to change at Holy Family Asha Niwas — or “House of Hope.”

Together, they run the orphanage and a second center in New Delhi, now celebrating its 100th year of helping the poor. “Our main mission is taking care of our orphanage,” Sister Lilly explains. “It’s where we help neglected and unwanted street girls 4 to 18 years of age.”

More than 25,000 families live in the slums of southwest New Delhi, where even menial work is hard to find. Many people turn to petty crime or worse. And for the homeless girls the sisters have taken in, the orphanage has been a place that has literally saved their lives.

“These girls had been wandering around railway stations, markets and streets,” Sister Lilly points out. “Some lost their parents or are abandoned. Others have been ill-treated by their drunken fathers. They were exploited by antisocial elements. Many are undernourished, both mentally and physically.”

The sisters help them in many ways — from providing shelter, food and clothing to ensuring each girl receives an education. As Sister Lilly says, “We believe they should have vocational training, health care, counseling and guidance.”

One of Sister Lilly’s favorites, a girl name Shilpa, “lost her parents when she was small. She was living with relatives, who told her to work in the kitchen. She was working very hard, but they treated her very badly and she ran away.”

The police found 12 year-old Shilpa in a railway station, and she was brought to Holy Family Asha Niwas. As Sister Lilly says, “She wanted to study and become something. The sisters arranged tutors and she was very brilliant in her studies. She did her B.A., her Masters in Social Work, and got married. At present, she is living happily with her child and family.”

Many girls who come to Holy Family Asha Niwas later work there as adults. But qualified staff and funding are in short supply. “We want to help the girls grow as good citizens and also in their future jobs and marriages,” Sister Lilly explains, aware that her compassion can only take them so far. “If we can find enough funds, we can give better quality service for our children. We want to help them realize their dreams.”

Thousands of sisters. Millions of small miracles.

To support the good work of sisters throughout CNEWA’s world, click here.

10 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Mosaics such as the one above, in the Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey, show some of the richness of Byzantine tradition. To learn more about the art depicted here, and the glorious mosaics of Byzantium, check out “Shimmering Glory: Byzantine Mosaics” from the Winter 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)

10 August 2015
Greg Kandra

The Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo — shown in this image from 2013 — says he believes ISIS militants are seeking to push Christians out of Syria.
(photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian bishop speaks out on kidnapping of Christians (Vatican Radio) The Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo in Syria, Antoine Audo says he believes the so-called Islamic State fighters are seeking to push Christians out of Syria and spread terror everywhere. He also warned that if the war continues, as seems likely, that gradually over the coming months and years, all Syria’s Christians will leave their homeland. Bishop Audo was reacting to the news of the abduction of dozens of Christians including women and children from the Syrian town of Qaryatain after the ISIS militants seized control of it earlier this week. The Christians were among a total of 230 residents in the town who were kidnapped by the militants...

Pope approves decree of martyrdom for Syriac Catholic bishop (Vatican Radio) On Saturday morning, Pope Francis received Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in a private audience. In the course of the audience, the Holy Father authorized the Congregation to promulgate the decree regarding the martyrdom of the Servant of God Flavien-Michel Malké, of the Fraternity of St. Ephrem, Eparch of Gazireh of the Syrians. Bishop Flavien-Michel Malké was born in 1858 in Kalat’ül Mara, Turkey and was killed in odium fidei in Gazireh, Turkey, on 29 August 1915...

Pope announces annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has decided to set up a “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” which will be celebrated on 1 September annually. He made the announcement in a letter to the heads of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity...

Ukraine reports heavy shelling by eastern rebels (Reuters) Ukraine accused pro-Russian rebels on Monday of carrying out the heaviest artillery attacks on government positions in six months and warned of signs the conflict was escalating despite a ceasefire deal. The military said 400 rebel fighters supported by tanks had attacked government forces around the village of Starohnativka, 50 km (30 miles) north of the Kiev-held port city of Mariupol. The rebels denied attacking government troops. Control of Mariupol could help the rebels form a corridor to the Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine last year...

Minorities in Kurdistan push for greater political voice (Voice of America) Christian and Turkmen minority lawmakers threw their voices behind a proposal put to Kurdistan’s Constitutional Committee Monday that would set up political councils to enshrine the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and ensure their participation in the Iraqi region’s governance. Christians are often treated as second class citizens by the Kurdish majority, explained Srood Maqdasy, a Christian Member of Parliament...

A homemade church bears witness to faith in Ethiopia (The Daily Mail) The vast expanse of ramshackle wooden huts and lopsided tents has seen it christened ‘the Jungle’ by those who live there. But amongst the rubble and sand dunes of the migrant camp that has become the epicentre of the Calais crisis sits a towering structure that looks out of place due to its grandeur. Like most of the buildings that have sprung up in the campsite, the Ethiopian Orthodox church, known as ‘St. Michael’s Calais,’ was fashioned from wood and tarpaulin donated by charities or simply found as scrap. Yet the structure has become not just a symbol of community resolve, but of just how long the band of migrants are willing to bide their time in the French port to secure their passage to Britain...

Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Ethiopia Ukraine

7 August 2015
Greg Kandra

A doctor checks a young patient at a dispensary supported by CNEWA in Erbil, Iraq. Read more about efforts to provide health care to displaced Iraqis here. (photo: CNEWA)

7 August 2015
Greg Kandra

An Iraqi Christian child who fled from violence in Mosul, Iraq, lies on a bed in 2014 at a church in Amman, Jordan. The world continues to be silent in the face of widespread persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, Pope Francis said. (photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)

Reports: ISIS has abducted dozens of Christians from Homs (BBC) Islamic State militants have abducted dozens of people, many Christian, from a Syrian town captured on Thursday from pro-regime forces, reports say. They were seized when the jihadists swept through al-Qaryatain in Homs province, monitoring groups say. Many of the Christians had fled to al-Qaryatain to escape fighting in Aleppo province to the north...

Pope condemns world silence on Iraqi refugees (CNS) The world continues to be silent in the face of widespread persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, Pope Francis said. One year after Islamic State militants drove thousands of Iraqi Christians and Yezidis out of the country, Pope Francis prayed that people around the world would be more attentive and sensitive to the reality of religious persecution and that “the international community would not stand by mute and unresponsive before such unacceptable crimes.” The Pope sent his message to Iraqi refugees who fled to Jordan after the Islamic State campaign in August 2014 sent tens of thousands of people fleeing their homes in the Ninevah Plain of northern Iraq...

Ukraine launches new police force in bid to head off corruption (The Wall Street Journal) A pro-Western government that swept into power last year with a promise to end corruption has largely disappointed Ukrainians, but one of Kiev’s new programs has been an instant hit: a new police force mostly made up of people with no law-enforcement experience...

Man transforms Gaza into place of color and art (Huffington Post) In the Al Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza, residents have transformed a conflict-stricken area into a vibrant work of art. Formerly bare doors and windows are now covered in rainbow shades of paint, and pastel-colored flower pots hang down alleyways. There are swirling murals on light purple and yellow walls, and brightly colored bricks line the sidewalks. The effort in Al Zaytoun to beautify the neighborhood was the brainchild of 58-year-old resident Mohammed Al Saedi, who wanted to create a positive atmosphere. He began painting pots in his own home, but had bigger ambitions...

Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank

6 August 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

In this image from May, Msgr. Kozar meets a few of the displaced Iraqis who are rebuilding their lives in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNEWA)

One year after ISIS extremists stormed the villages of the Nineveh Plain in the middle of the night, driving out more than 120,000 Christians, most of those who fled remain in their places of exile. Largely due to the heroic efforts of the priests and religious sisters exiled with their community, however, panic and fear have been replaced by resilience and grace, said CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar.

“The churches are working together, Chaldean and Syriac, Catholic and Orthodox, setting up educational and catechetical programs for children; health care facilities for expectant mothers, infants and toddlers, the handicapped and the elderly; counseling for all those struggling to cope; and temporary housing to replace the tents,” he added.

“The community is beginning to display some of the daily rhythms of normality again,” reported CNEWA’s correspondent in Kurdistan, Don Duncan. “Kids are going off to school, mom is cleaning the house or preparing dinner for when they come home.” But, he added, “the male population is still chronically underemployed, domestic tensions continue to flare in households, living conditions remain cramped and disease is rampant.”

“While much dignity has been restored — thanks largely to the work of the parish priests, religious sisters and parish volunteers, most of whom are displaced themselves — displaced Christians remain in limbo, and their long-term needs are great,” said Msgr. Kozar, who accompanied the Holy See’s Cardinal Leonardo Sandri on a pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan in early May.

During his many pastoral visits to displaced Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon and Jordan, CNEWA’s Msgr. Kozar said he is always struck by the indomitable spirit of the people he meets.

“Again and again,” he said, “I have encountered resilience and hope. They want us to know one thing: They love the Holy Father. And they are grateful for his prayers. They want us to know they remain steadfast in their faith in Jesus.

“ ‘They have taken our homes,’ ” he recalled one girl telling him, “ ‘but they will never take our faith.’ ”

In the last year, CNEWA has disbursed more than $7.2 million to assist Iraqis and Syrians — many of them Christian — displaced by extremists in the “cradle of civilization.” These funds represent the generosity of Catholics from North America and Europe and have enabled CNEWA’s on-the-ground partners, the local churches, to respond to the needs of men, women and children devastated by the agents of hate. CNEWA activities include:

Emergency relief

  • Rushing essentials to families fleeing ISIS in the Nineveh Plain and northeastern Syria. Monies purchased milk and diapers, food packages, water supplies, bedding, medicines and sanitary kits
  • Securing bedding, clothing, hygienic supplies, food and water for Iraqi and Syrian Christian refugee families hosted by church communities in Jordan and Lebanon.

Health care initiatives

  • Setting up, equipping and operating clinics in Erbil, Dohuk and Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan
  • Subsidizing Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, which offers refugee women pre- and post-natal care
  • Supporting the daily clinic at the Italian Hospital in Amman for the treatment of refugees
  • Providing medical care for displaced families in Syria and refugees in Lebanon.

Educational and pastoral outreach

  • Providing counseling, tutoring, catechesis and English classes to Iraqi and Syrian Christian refugee families at the Pontifical Mission Community Center in Amman
  • Securing a social worker to assist the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in their work at the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa
  • Hosting summer Bible camps for refugee children in Jordan. Run by parishes and congregations of sisters, Bible camps offer children a respite from the drudgery of poverty. Camps provide counseling, catechesis and recreation
  • Supporting educational programs for displaced Syrian and Iraqi children as well as assistance for refugees attending Catholic schools in Jordan.

To learn how you can be a part of CNEWA’s work in the Middle East, visit this page.

6 August 2015
Don Duncan

Iraqi refugees gather outside their temporary dwellings in Erbil. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)

It was one year ago today that ISIS launched its greatest offensive through northern Iraq, displacing tens of thousands of Christians. Don Duncan writes about that displacement and a recent visit to Erbil in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. He offers some personal impressions below.

On this, my second trip to Iraqi Kurdistan to cover the situation of displaced Christians there, I was struck by the dynamics of displacement and the ceaseless nature of human resilience.

During my first trip, last September, the Christians who had fled the sudden onslaught of ISIS through their villages and territory just weeks prior were all heaving in a sort of mass trauma. The harsh reality of homelessness and displacement was beginning to settle in in painful waves. All this was happening as people found themselves and their families sleeping in churchyards without shelter, and later in basements of unfinished buildings, separated only by sheets of tarpaulin.

Disease was rife. Anguish was rife. Panic was rife.

The usual pillars of society — church, school, hospital and childcare — had all vanished and providers of care such as nuns, priests, teachers, and medics were all scrambling to simply stanch the crisis enough so as to find more sustainable solutions for the overwrought population.

What I have found on my return this second time to Erbil is a soul-warming display of resilience. All the sites of hellish living conditions I saw in September lie empty. Most families are now either housed in rented houses or in emergency housing trailers, much like the ones used by FEMA in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck. While living conditions are less than ideal, the edge of panic and woe seems to have lifted somewhat. The population, less in shock than before, is able to go about making their lives better. Nowhere is this clearer than in the infrastructure of care that has developed around the population over the past year.

Whereas a very basic level of emergency healthcare had been established by September last, in the form of three CNEWA-donated pre-fab cabins, huge gaps lay in provision of basic services for a population badly in need.

Now, in big measure because of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena, the complex of schooling, healthcare, childcare and orphanage infrastructure that existed around these Christians at home, prior to their expulsion by ISIS, his being progressively restored. Temporary schools and clinics have been built and set running. An orphanage and kindergartens have been established. The community is beginning to display some of the daily rhythms of normality again: kids going off to school, mom cleaning the house or preparing dinner for when they come home.

These are the vital signs of survival, it seemed to me, of a community in peril. A community that is able to rebuild itself from the ashes is, in essence, a community that will endure and persist and this fact has brought a strong sense of hope to the displaced Christians that was simply not present last September, when so many of the people I interviewed saw the events unfurling as the last chapters in the story of Christians in Iraq.

I should stress that while the situation has improved and that this improvement is strength-giving, the overall situation is still far from ideal. The male population is still chronically under-employed, domestic tensions continue to flare in households, living conditions are still cramped and diseases are still rampant. While a vital measure of dignity has been restored, the displaced Christians are still in chronic need of yet more dignity in their living situations.

Now, it seems, the displaced Christians are getting hope and strength from the specter of the resurrection of the infrastructure of community. Many are emboldened to carry on, to move on if they have to. Or, they hope, to move back to their own towns one day and start the reconstruction of their lost homes and communities there.

A year into this crisis, the need remains great. To support those struggling to rebuild their lives in Iraq, visit our giving page. And please remember to keep these people in your prayers.

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