28 October 2016
A boy kicks a soccer ball in a class at the Al Bishara School, run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. The students and the Dominican Sisters themselves were displaced by ISIS in 2014. The sisters have established schools and other ministries among the displaced. Read more about how living conditions changed over time for this uprooted population — thanks to the heroic efforts of people such as the sisters — in Grace, published last year in ONE. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
28 October 2016
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
CNEWA will be visiting Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church in San Diego this weekend.
If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by!
Our CNEWA team is visiting Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church in San Diego this weekend. I’ll be giving talks Saturday morning at 11, and Sunday afternoon at 12:45. I’ll also be preaching at the 9 a.m. Divine Liturgy on Sunday. My topic: bringing light and hope to the suffering peoples of the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. I’ll also be offering some updates on the latest encouraging news from Iraq.
If you can, please join us! Visit the parish website for more information.
28 October 2016
Celebrations break out in town as Iraqi government forces continue to advance toward Mosul, meeting fierce resistance. (video: Al Jazeera)
ISIS pushed out of town near Mosul as advance continues (Al Jazeera) Kurdish and Iraqi government forces have pushed ISIS out of the northern town of Fadiliya, which lies about two miles away from Mosul, the group’s last major urban bastion in the country…
Chaldean patriarch visits the liberated towns of the Nineveh Plain (Fides) His Beatitude Patriarch Louis Raphael I, accompanied by his auxiliary Bishop Basileo Salim Yado, visited the five Christian towns of the Nineveh Plain already released in the concerted military operations that aim at reconquering Mosul, the northern-Iraqi city that has become since June 2014 a stronghold of ISIS…
The bishops: Pray for corruption-free nation on Diwali (Fides) Catholic bishops in India have invited prayer for a nation free of corruption, violence and division on the occasion of Diwali, the festival of lights which is celebrated on 30 October. In their warmest greetings and felicitations “to the Hindu brethren throughout the world,” the bishops noted that the festival symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and good over evil…
Dozens missing after migrant boat sinks in Mediterranean, says Libyan navy (The Guardian) About 100 people are feared missing after a boat sank off the coast of Libya, amid mounting evidence that already dangerous conditions are worsening for migrants crossing the Mediterranean sea to get to Europe. General Ayoub Qassem, a spokesman for the Libyan navy, said on Thursday that a boat carrying 126 people from the port of Garabulli had sunk after being hit by high waves, and that only 20 people had been rescued…
Syrian rebels launch attack to break Aleppo siege (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian rebels, including extremists, counterattacked the army and its allies Friday aiming to break a weeks-long siege on eastern Aleppo, insurgents said. The assault, employing heavy shelling and suicide car bombs, was mainly focused on the city’s western edge. It included fighters from Jabhat Fatah al Sham, a former affiliate of Al Qaeda previously known as Al Nusra Front, and groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based pro-opposition monitor, said more than 15 civilians had been killed and 100 wounded by rebel shelling of government-held western Aleppo. State media reported that five civilians were killed…
NATO moving thousands of troops amid standoff with Russia (Vatican Radio) The NATO military alliance has finalized plans to deploy thousands of troops and military equipment to the Baltics and Poland in response to what it views as an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Russia. After two days of talks, NATO defense ministers agreed to send as many as 4,000 troops and equipment into Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland near Russia’s borders, despite warnings by experts that it could add to international tensions…
27 October 2016
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Migrants Libya
Issa Nesnas received help from CNEWA in his youth—and now helps others as a CNEWA donor.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
I first met Issa Nesnas last winter, during a visit to meet CNEWA donors in California. To my surprise, it turns out that CNEWA had helped him during a time of need in his youth. Born and reared in Jerusalem, he received scholarship help from CNEWA to study in the United States. Not only that, but our magazine profiled his remarkable family in the 1990s. Issa has come a long way from Jerusalem; he now works for NASA in California, where he lives with his wife and three young children. He continues to give generously to CNEWA and believes in the philosophy of “paying it forward” — giving back in gratitude to those who gave to him.
I contacted him recently and asked if he’s share some of his story. He graciously agreed, and sent us the email below.
I was born on Christmas Day 1970 in Jerusalem, to Antoine and Eileen Nesnas. I grew up with two siblings: my older sister, Nayla, and my younger brother Nasri. I attended Collège des Frères, a Christian Brothers’ school in the Old City from kindergarten through 12th grade. Both my paternal and maternal ancestries can be traced back well over 400 years to the city of Jerusalem.
While I was growing up, my parents both had to work to support our family. My dad worked at the American Consulate in Jerusalem, while my mother worked at the Pontifical Mission for Palestine [CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East] for more than three decades, starting at the age of 19. (In fact, it was 36 years in all, which included assisting both the late Helen Breen and Carol Hunnybun for the visit of Pope Paul VI to Jerusalem in 1964). Through her time there, many directors served in that office. In the mid-1980’s, when I was in the ninth grade, the Rev. Andre Weller was in charge there. He was an unassuming figure with a genuine care for people. During that time, personal computers started to hit the market and the Pontifical Mission had just acquired their first personal computer. I recall that computer laying there with its nylon cover for many months on end.
My parents had the great foresight to buy us a small computer, which was a substantial purchase for a family of modest means. To ensure that their investment was fruitful, they enrolled my siblings and me in a Palestinian summer camp that focused on early computer education, which had yet to reach the high school and college curricula. We eagerly embraced these unique but rare opportunities. Armed with this knowledge, I offered Father Andre help with setting up their computer and tailoring it to their needs. t that time, personal computers had few applications. The main purpose was to automate the office’s accounting system. His agreeable response reflected his trust in my abilities, which invariably left me with a sense of confidence.
I knew very little about accounting; however, I was adept at writing computer programs. So I started to work on programming their accounting system during my free time. I recall spending numerous hours working on that. It took many months and I was making good progress. It was through that experience and interaction that I got to work with and later know Father Andre quite well.
Father Andre appreciated my effort through the many volunteer hours that I spent helping with the computers in the office and he wanted to help me. There was one thing that I critically needed: a scholarship to study engineering and pursue my dream of becoming a robotics engineer. At the time, I also did not fully comprehend how grants and scholarships in the U.S. worked.
Unbeknownst to me and to my parents, Father Andre discussed this situation with Msgr. Robert Stern upon one of his visits to CNEWA headquarters. Msgr. Stern, whom I got to know quite well during my undergraduate years in New York, was another formidable man who was intent on helping people. Together and with others, including Brother Robert Wise, a Christian Brother at my high school in Jerusalem, they tried to work out an arrangement for me that would allow me to lump together enough financial resources to attend Manhattan College. These included small contributions from Manhattan College, from my family, and from my student work. However, the primary contribution would come from CNEWA’s newly established scholarship fund through the generous endowment of an Aramco retiree, Ollie DeVine. With the help of several players, one of whom I only met a couple of years ago, the fund was established and I became the first recipient of this scholarship.
Ollie was a gracious man with whom I exchanged monthly letters and pictures when I started at Manhattan College in the fall of 1988. We were both eager to meet one another. A meeting in New York City was arranged for November of 1988 but later postponed to January. Sadly, Ollie passed away in December and we never got to meet in person. But over the years, I held on to the letters and pictures that he sent me. It is these gestures — his willingness to help — that were transformative in my life. I dedicated my doctoral dissertation to Ollie and his legacy.
Perhaps my initial request for help with a scholarship was a little unusual. But the fact is that the people at CNEWA and those who support them made it happen. It is a testament to their dedication to creating solutions to help people in need. This left me in awe. Those people enabled my journey and I will always be indebted to them. What they have done helped change my life in very profound ways.
The people I met along this journey and the genuine kindness and caring that I experienced throughout left the deepest impact on me. That made me very determined to give back, with the hope that it would make a positive impact on others.
I felt blessed and fortunate, but it also inspired me to reciprocate. I felt the need to do something in return that would help others. Once your life gets touched by others, it changes you to the core.
I think people should know that the work that CNEWA does touches so many lives in the most fundamental way. It connects potential donors to people who are in need and who are victims of political misfortunes. The aid that CNEWA offers helps people get up on their feet and improve their living conditions.
We are all part of the human fabric: people of different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and religions. Our lives are intertwined. Bombs and wars only sow seeds of anger and hatred, wreak havoc on the lives and livelihood of people for generations to come, create schisms and misunderstanding among cultures and never solve a problem at its core. Justice, kindness, education, and positive interaction will promote better understanding of our diversity and lead to more harmony, peace and prosperity in our world.
27 October 2016
A Bedouin is ordained to the diaconate in Jordan. To learn more about the enduring faith of Christians in that corner of the world, check out the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE and the story Where It All Began, a look at the Church of Jerusalem. (photo: John E. Kozar)
27 October 2016
Iraqi Christians pray at the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Help during a 25 October interfaith service in Ain Kawa. Iraqi Christians of various communities gathered with their church leaders to offer a prayer of support to Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State.
(photo: CNS/Amel Pain, EPA)
U.S.: ISIS loses up to 900 soldiers (BBC) Between 800 and 900 Islamic State (IS) militants have been killed since Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake Mosul last week, a top US general says. US Central Command chief Joseph Votel told AFP news agency it was hard to be precise as militants moved around the city and blended in with residents. Up to 5,000 IS fighters were thought to be in Mosul before the assault began...
Aid agencies step up assistance for displaced Iraqis fleeing Mosul (UN.org) As newly-displaced Iraqis are starting to arrive at camps set up by the United Nations for people fleeing the ongoing military offensive to wrest Mosul from terrorists, the Organization’s health and refugee agencies have ramped up their own operations to provide assistance and to respond to what has thus far been a ‘moderate’ influx. This week, flights from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be bringing in some 7,200 tents from its emergency warehouse in Dubai, this number is part of agency’s effort to secure 50,000 tents and 50,000 emergency shelter kits for families on the move...
Ecumenical prayer for peace in Iraq (Fides) At an interfaith prayer service in Ain Kawa, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako expressed the intention to proclaim 2017 as the “Year of Peace in Iraq,” creating moments of ecumenical prayer and shared ecclesial initiatives to nurture the “culture of peace and coexistence” in the country torn by sectarian strife. The liberation of Mosul, which united different forces, according to Patriarch Raphael Louis can become the beginning of a process of national reconciliation based on shared perspectives and points, to regain stability and lost unity...
Church of Transfiguration robbed, vandalized (The Jerusalem Post) The Church of the Transfiguration in northern Israel was robbed and vandalized, AFP reported on Tuesday. Church officials stated that multiple chalices were stolen, icons damaged and a donation box was robbed...
Christ’s burial spot exposed for first time in centuries (National Geographic) For the first time in centuries, scientists have exposed the original surface of what is traditionally considered the tomb of Jesus Christ. Located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, the tomb has been covered by marble cladding since at least 1555 A.D., and most likely centuries earlier...
Russian Orthodox church rises in Oregon (Medford Mail Tribune) The Rev. Seraphim Cardoza admits that it is nothing short of “a minor miracle” that his tiny parish is erecting an ornate Russian Orthodox shrine in Rogue River. It is believed to be the first traditional Russian Orthodox Church, complete with onion dome, built on the West Coast in more than 70 years...
26 October 2016
Displaced Iraqi Christians take part in celebrations on 18 October 2016 in Erbil, to mark the liberation of Qaraqosh, which had been Iraq’s largest Christian town before it was overrun by ISIS in August 2014. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
As Iraqi soldiers intensify their offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS, we are getting scattered reports from local clergy, describing scenes of great fear — but also tremendous hope.
The following is part of an email sent by Bishop Yousif Mirkius, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Suleimaniyah. He described what happened last Thursday night, 20 October, when jihadists from ISIS, trying to escape security forces, sought shelter in local residences in Kirkuk, including the Dominican sisters’ convent and houses rented by the bishop to house immigrant students. The students, he writes, are
from all faiths: Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and Mandaeans, numbering about 500 in all. As he explains, 71 students were in the area that night when ISIS burst in. They were under the responsibility of Mr. Imad Matti, who described what happened:
The young girls realized the jihadists were invading at 3 in the morning on Friday. These terrorists had climbed the walls of the houses and reached the garden shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The students took photos of them and noticed that they were not only armed but also equipped with explosive belts around their waists. The security forces were aware of the seriousness of the situation and these girls had to remain 24 hours without electricity — trembling, in total fear. At that moment, heavy fighting took place. The terrorists would not surrender. So a plan was adopted to make everything possible to save the 14 students in the first house. The security forces succeeded in saving them despite their continuous gunfire during the whole operation.
At 2 a.m., we proceeded to rescue the seven students in the second house. It was the riskiest operation, as four terrorists were inside the house eating and drinking while the students were hidden under their beds. These terrorists must have been blinded by the Lord, because at no time did they find them. I therefore took the risk to ask them to come out of their hiding place, to run toward the wall at the back of the house. Nine of the emergency forces demonstrated exceptional courage and bravery. They were more than ready to give their lives to save these girls. It was dark and despite intense firing, the seven students were rescued.
As for the third group of students, the rescue operation took place at 5 a.m. on Saturday thanks to the “Suat” forces from Suleimaniyah. There were 30 students in that house. I must admit that I admired their courage and determination as the girls remained calm and followed very precisely all the orders and instructions that were given to them during these operations.
After this intervention, the four terrorists blew themselves up in the students’ house.
The seven students had remained under their beds 18 hours without moving and without letting their presence be detected. They were transferred to Erbil, where they are recovering and reassuring their families.
We do hope they will continue their studies with even more motivation than ever, with the help of the Chaldean diocese who has committed to finance their studies despite all the difficulties and challenges we are facing.
Bishop Yousif concluded: “We thank God for this grace and miracles. We also pray for all the martyrs, the wounded and victims as well as for all those who suffered damage and losses.”
Also this week, we received this jubilant, poetic communication from Basilios Georges Casmoussa, patriarchal auxiliary and Syriac Catholic archbishop emeritus of Mosul. He described the great joy surrounding the liberation of Qaraqosh, a Christian stronghold in the Nineveh Plain that had been emptied of Christians after the invasion of ISIS in 2014:
So, Qaraqosh is liberated!
Cry of joy, peace and hope for its children and all its friends over the world!
Message of thanksgiving to God. …
Message of gratitude to the courageous fighters of the Iraqi army, who came from all regions of Iraq, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis … together.
Who, at the dawn of 22 of Oct 2016, penetrated, with their Iraqi flag, the deserted city. …
The image of this valiant soldier, child of Qaraqosh, moved by the emotion, when he put his foot on the ground of his silent city, after a so long an absence, how he sprinkled his head and face by its dust, as a sweet balsam. …
Or, this other, with his weapon on his shoulder, kissing the entrance door of his childhood church. …
Or, this group of officers and soldiers, standing in front of the central altar, broken by Daesh [ISIS], and praying to the Virgin Mary “Shlama ellakh Maryam” in his maternal language, the soureth, an Aramaic idiom coming from the time of Christ. …
Or this young priest ringing the bell of the church of Bartella, another Christian city liberated in the Plain of Nineveh, yesterday. …
These views shall remain forever in the collective memory.
My message is a message of gratitude, also, to Kurdistan, who welcomed us when we were displaced, and to all those who came to help us by different ways. …
My message is a message of gratitude to all our friends, those unknown men and women over the world, who supported us by their solidarity, since the beginning of our exodus until today, in many ways: humanitarian aid, schools’ construction, churches, houses, medical centers, repeated visits of personalities coming from Europe, America and Australia.
Friends, as unknown soldiers, you made us feel we are not forgotten, we are not alone, we are beloved and recognized.
You have defended our cause. …
You, already, are preparing new projects to support us in our efforts of reconstruction. Be accompanied by our gratefulness and prayers:
To start the chapter of the reconstruction — the reconstruction of living together, with harmony and solidarity between different Christian denominations, and Muslim neighbors, Kurds, Arabs, Shabaks, Yazidis, Kakais, Mandaeans. …
In mutual respect, the recognition of diversity and rights. …
Consider all of them as citizens with the same rank, same rights, same duties.
26 October 2016
Tags: Iraq Iraqi
This image from 2015 shows a child at a school for the Zabbaleen (garbage pickers) at the Salam Medical and Social Center in Cairo, Egypt. The center is run by the Daughters of Saint Mary Convent. See more images from Egypt and meet some of the country’s remarkable Christians in this photographic essay. (photo: John E. Kozar)
25 October 2016
A young Iraqi refugee who fled Mosul, the last major Iraqi city under the control of ISIS, stands between tents at the UN-run Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria’s Hasakeh province,
on 25 October 2016. (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS sending ‘suicide squads’ to Mosul (CNN) ISIS is sending “suicide squads” from Syria to its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, witnesses have told CNN, as tens of thousands of troops close in on the key city to take it from the militant group’s control. Witnesses said hundreds of new arrivals had streamed into Mosul from the group’s heartland of Raqqa, Syria, in the past two days, describing them as foreign fighters wearing distinct uniforms and suicide belts, and carrying light weapons.
The painful liberation of Iraq’s Christian heartland (The Daily Beast) For over two years the Christians of Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, had been deprived of their place of worship. After ISIS stormed into Mosul in June 2014, the militants quickly turned their sights on the surrounding towns and villages, home to the majority of Iraq’s Christians. By August, they had taken Qaraqosh, forcing its 50,000 inhabitants to abandon the town. But Father Amar’s joy at returning to his native Qaraqosh is tinged with sorrow about the destruction that surrounds him...
Turkey warns one million refugees could spill into Europe because of Mosul battle (The Express) A senior Turkish politician has claimed his country’s armed forces will remain on the ground in the key supply town of Bashiqa, which is located 8 miles from Mosul, as the battle to eliminate ISIS’ presence in Iraq continues. This comes after experts warned jihadis potentially posing as refugees could “unleash attacks on Europe as payback for Mosul...”
Bishops: Eastern Catholic migrants help Church (CNS) Eastern Catholic migrants living in Western Europe help the Catholic Church become more aware of its universality and diversity and, by remaining active in their faith, can help with the new evangelization of the continent, Eastern Catholic bishops said. Meeting in Fatima, Portugal, 20-23 October, the Eastern Catholic bishops of Europe examined “the challenges of the pastoral care of the Eastern Catholic faithful who migrate to Western countries and, often, to places where they find themselves without their own pastors,” according to a statement...
Pope: ‘the only solution to the migration crisis is solidarity’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday called for solidarity with migrants and refugees. Speaking to the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly General Audience, the Pope reflected on two particular corporal works of mercy — welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked — and said that the growing numbers of refugees fleeing war, famine and dire poverty calls us to welcome and care for these brothers and sisters...
Queen visits refugee camp in Jordan (Daily Mail) Queen Mathilde of Belgium has admitted she’s expecting an ‘intense and emotional’ few days as she arrived in Jordan to begin a humanitarian visit. The monarch, 43, began her trip to the Middle East by visiting Jordan’s biggest refugee camp Al Zaatari in Mafraq near the Syrian border, which is home to 80,000 people...
25 October 2016
In the video above, Iraqi Christian soldiers raise a cross atop a church in Bartella after its liberation from ISIS. (video: YouTube/France24)
NEW YORK — Church bells rang as soldiers affixed a homemade cross at the summit of a dome of a church in the newly liberated town of Bartella, once home to more than 20,000 Iraqi Christians. Yet even as soldiers searched its empty streets and homes for booby traps, mines and snipers, offering prayers of thanksgiving in its burned out churches, questions of Bartella’s future, as well as that of the many villages and their former inhabitants of northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, have tempered the joy of the liberators.
“We are going to face a new challenge with liberating Mosul,” said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, during a visit to CNEWA’s New York offices yesterday.
“How are we going to convince them to go back to their villages?
“We need a plan. We need some good, concrete plans,” he added.
Since the expulsion by ISIS of more than 120,000 Christians from their homes to the Erbil region of Iraqi Kurdistan in the summer of 2014, the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil has coordinated the care for the well-being of these “Internally Displaced Peoples,” working with international aid agencies — including CNEWA — and the religious and clergy of the various churches affected by the rise of the extremist group.
The church works “to provide the necessary needs — shelter, education, health, food packages — and be with them, and try to comfort them in their material needs and their spiritual and pastoral needs,” the archbishop said in an interview with Catholic News Service last week.
But more is needed for the long-term. People need “social intervention and political intervention, economic intervention and, most importantly, how we are going to reconcile all those divided groups which will remain, and they’ve been called to live together?”
The social service activities of the churches for the IDPs of the Nineveh Plain and Mosul have included care for all those in need — not just Christians — including Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis. But Iraq remains a fractured nation, its various communities fearful of the instability.
“Certain conditions, certain guarantees, have to be met to prevent this from happening again,” said an Iraqi priest of the Church of the East, Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, during a recent visit to CNEWA, of those families considering returning to their homes should ISIS be pushed out and defeated.
“How do we restore coexistence and mutual trust?” he asked, adding that the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi government had failed to bind the diverse nation together, ignoring the existence of Iraq’s considerable non-Islamic minorities even in children’s text books.
“The sense of loss is profound,” he said, noting that, overnight, Christian communities founded by the apostles on the soil stained with the blood of martyrs lost their shrines, their relics and their patrimony. Families were uprooted, perhaps forever.
“We share in the liturgy and in the sacraments,” he said of what binds all Iraqi Christians together, “we share all, as seeds of hope.”
Despite the instability and the uncertainty of the theatre in Iraq, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said its president, Msgr. John Kozar, “is committed to accompanying Iraq’s churches, investing in their people and programs as they live out the Gospel mandate to love one another.”
CNEWA is actively supporting Christians and suffering minorities throughout the Middle East, particularly those displaced by ISIS and other extremists in Iraq and Syria. Visit this giving page for more information.