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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
25 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, serves the thousands of displaced people who fled ISIS. He is calling for both prayers and planning to help support those who are suffering in his homeland, as they look to a future after ISIS. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

It is never easy being a bishop and tending to a large and diverse flock. The mission is made even more challenging if you are a bishop in a time of war, displacement and persecution.

That is the story of Iraq’s Archbishop Bashar Warda. The Chaldean Catholic archbishop visited our offices this week and his presence served to remind us of the heroic work so many men and women are undertaking, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.

The past two years have been tumultuous. He described in 2015 some of what his people were facing:

Archbishop Warda said that 620 families were initially housed on the grounds of the cathedral in Erbil where he lived.

“People come and tell their stories of persecution and how they were really terrified, having to walk eight to 10 hours during the night,” Archbishop Warda said. “In the end, they would tell you, ‘Thank God we are alive. Nushkur Allah. We thank God for everything.’ That’s the phrase they end with. That’s strengthening, in a way...

...He tried to encourage the persecuted Christians whom he had welcomed to Erbil, within his heart he would frequently “quarrel with God.”

“I don’t understand what he is doing when I look at what has happened in the region,” Archbishop Warda said. “I quarrel with him every day.”

However, the arguments take place within his intimate relationship with God, one that, with the help of grace, withstands even the previously unimaginable challenges to his faith that he has faced over the past year.

“Before going to sleep, I usually hand all my crises, wishes, thoughts and sadness to him, so I can at least have some rest,” Archbishop Warda said. “The next day, I usually wake up with his providence that I would never dream about.”

This week, visiting New York, he reflected on all that had happened and spoke about looking beyond persecution, and planning for the future:

“We can’t be a church that complains all the time about persecution,” he said. “Persecution started on Good Friday. It’s not a new event for being a Christian. It started there and continues. It’s not the first experience, not the only experience. It’s happened in different parts of the world, and churches were able to emerge stronger than before. Aid is needed. We are going to face a new challenge with liberating Mosul, with convincing families to go back again. How are we going to convince them to go back to their villages? It needs a plan. We need some good, concrete plans.”

And he encouraged everyone to raise awareness about what is happening back in his homeland:

“In my visit here,” he explained, “Americans have no idea what is going on there. Raising awareness is so important. The roots of the Christians are in the Middle East. We have to keep these roots alive. Even if they are small and tiny roots, we have to work to keep them alive so they can give us more vitality. So we need to raise awareness, we need to pray for Christians.”

Pray for the people in Erbil and throughout the region. At this moment, as Iraqi soldiers launch their offensive to try and retake Mosul from ISIS, there are growing concerns about what could become a massive humanitarian crisis. To lend your support to these people in their moment of need, visit this page.

25 October 2016
Greg Kandra

The video above shows — for the first time in two years — the ringing of church bells in the city of Bartella in Iraq. ISIS overtook the city in 2014 and forced all Christians to flee. Iraqi soldiers are now closing in on Mosul as part of an offensive attempting to retake the city from ISIS.
(video: Rome Reports)

ISIS resorts to guerilla tactics as troops approach Mosul (CBS News) The United States says progress will slow down as the American-backed Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul from ISIS draws closer to the city. U.S. officials say an area larger than New York City has already been retaken from ISIS. Kurdish forces are still clearing Bashiqa, eight miles northeast of Mosul, reports CBS News correspondent Holly Williams. They’re up against the usual guerrilla tactics that are being used by ISIS: homemade explosives, networks of tunnels and suicide bombers...

Humanitarian corridors in Aleppo still open (AP) Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it was keeping humanitarian corridors out of Syria’s Aleppo open following accusations by the U.N. humanitarian chief that warring parties were obstructing medical evacuations from the eastern, rebel-held districts of the city...

Syrian refugee women forge new lives in Jordan (The Los Angeles Times) According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, women head 66,000 — or around percent — of the 188,000 Syrian refugee families registered with the agency in Jordan. Widowed, divorced or abandoned by their husbands, these women have become their families’ sole breadwinners, roles traditionally held in Syrian society by men...

Vatican sends message to Hindus for Diwali (Vatican Radio) The President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has sent a Message to Hindus for the Feast of Deepavali (Diwali), entitled Christians and Hindus: Promoting hope among families...

Welcome to Gaza’s first deer farm (Al Monitor) Palestinians have always raised animals such as goats and camels, but one man has now taken up a new activity that is the first of its kind in the Gaza Strip — deer farming...

24 October 2016
Greg Kandra

CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil to CNEWA’s New York offices. (photo: CNEWA)

CNEWA was privileged to welcome to our New York offices on Monday Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. The Chaldean Catholic archbishop is visiting several cities in the United States — but his thoughts and prayers right now are with his flock back home, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are fighting to free Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from ISIS.

Welcomed to our offices by CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, the archbishop met with CNEWA’s staff to outline the situation that displaced Iraqis are confronting.

Last week, speaking to Catholic News Service, he explained that many are living in relative safety. The archbishop said troops would not find any Christians in and around Mosul, because they fled in 2014, when Islamic State militants gave them a choice to convert to Islam, pay the Islamic jizya tax or be killed.

Many of those Christians fled to Erbil, where the church has been caring for them. The Erbil archdiocese is providing housing to more than 10,000 internally displaced families, but many more live in trailers or open buildings.

Today, in his visit to CNEWA, he spoke compellingly of the great success the church has had in creating schools and educating young people. But he also said more work needs to be done to educate the rest of the world. Many Christians he has met in the United States remain unaware of what their brothers and sisters in the Middle East are going through.

“In my visit here,” he explained, “Americans have no idea what is going on there. Raising awareness is so important. The roots of the Christians is in the Middle East. We have to keep these roots alive. Even if they are small and tiny roots, we have to work to keep them alive so they can give us more vitality. So we need to raise awareness, we need to pray for Christians.”

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil visited CNEWA on Monday and spoke of the plight of Christians in his country. (photo: CNEWA)

But, he said, that is only the beginning. Too often, he said, people tend to dwell only on the persecution Christians are facing.

“We can’t be a church that complains all the time about persecution,” he said. “Persecution started on Good Friday. It’s not a new event for being a Christian. It started there and continues. It’s not the first experience, not the only experience. It’s happened in different parts of the world, and churches were able to emerge stronger than before. Aid is needed. We are going to face a new challenge with liberating Mosul, with convincing families to go back again. How are we going to convince them to go back to their villages? It needs a plan. We need some good, concrete plans.”

Speaking to CNS, the archbishop elaborated.

Church people work “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. The 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 Christians from the region are the original owners of the land, he said. Many have said their neighbors turned against them as ISIS approached.

“We have lived with Islam for 1,400 years. There was a trust in us, and we have to build on this trust — initiatives for the peaceful future,” he told CNS. “We need the outside world to help us” start such initiatives, but they must come from within, because people are suspicious of outsiders.

Archbishop Warda spoke of celebrating the Divine Liturgy with the displaced, calling it “Eucharist in the fullest sense.”

“Everyone has given something valuable and painful to remain Christian,” he said.

Celebrating the liturgy is “different because you are with a suffering people, with persecuted people who made the right choice — Christ — so here we have a church which is alive. Yes, there are faces tired of what’s happening, being persecuted, but every response you get from the community during Mass is full of faith. And you could sense that they made the right choice, to stay Christians and to suffer for their faith,” he said. It adds "a special joy for the Mass.”

CNS produced the video below, in which the archbishop talks about the challenges confronting Christians in his part of the world.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church

24 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A family prepares a meal in Trivandrum, India. To learn more about life Kerala’s capital, check out Tried and True Traditions of Kerala’s Christians in the July-August 2001 edition of the magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)

24 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A boy raises his hand with a peace sign on 21 October after returning to his village that was liberated from ISIS militants near Mosul, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudaini, Reuters)

Kurdish forces besiege town of Bashiqa (BBC) Kurdish forces taking part in the offensive to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS) militants are besieging a key town to the north. Peshmerga fighters have surrounded Bashiqa, which lies on a crucial supply route only 12km (8 miles) from Mosul, on three sides, a commander said. But the threat of suicide bomb attacks means they are advancing with caution...

UNICEF says up to 1.5 million may be affected by Mosul offensive ( Thousands of people who have fled the Mosul area, as the military offensive to retake the northern Iraqi city gathers pace, have been on the road for days. In the background is a stark, apocalyptic landscape, with fumes billowing into the air from oil fields set alight by the retreating militants. The United Nations has said several thousand people have fled areas around Mosul since the military operation began...

Pope expresses shock over cruelty waged against innocent Iraqis (CNS) As a military operation in northern Iraq fights to wrest control of areas held by retaliating Islamic State forces, Pope Francis criticized the “cruelty” and heinous violence waged against innocent civilians. Speaking to visitors in St. Peter’s Square on 23 October for the Angelus prayer, the Pope said, “In these dramatic hours, I am close to the entire population of Iraq, especially that of the city of Mosul.” He invited people to pray with him, asking that “Iraq, while gravely stricken, might be both strong and firm in the hope of moving toward a future of security, reconciliation and peace...”

More displaced people arrive at camps as Battle of Mosul nears (Fides) While the Kurdish peshmerga are now at the gates of Mosul and Isis prepares its last resistance in Iraq’s second city, the arrival of displaced people in camps in the southern areas of the governorate of Nineveh continues...

Christian philosophers meet in India (Fides) “We are proud to live in a country that is sovereign, secular, a democratic republic, with a Constitution that protects the fundamental rights of its citizens. The Indian tradition of plurality and diplomacy, its scientific progress and huge natural and human resources, are signs of its immense potential,” says the Association of Christian Philosophers of India, who met in recent days in Ranchi for their annual seminar...

21 October 2016
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Syrian Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy at a Greek Orthodox church in the Syrian government-controlled area in the northern city of Aleppo on 16 November 2014. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) works with many groups in the Middle East. The men and women of the Franciscan family are among our partners. Franciscans have been in the Middle East since the time of St. Francis in the 13th century. The Custody of the Holy Land has been the organization through which Franciscans have worked as custodians of the holy places for eight centuries. However, Franciscan men and women in the Middle East are engaged in far more than maintaining shrines. They run parishes, schools, hospitals, etc., in almost every country in the region.

Recently the Syrian city of Aleppo has been in the news. Eastern Aleppo has been the target of almost constant bombardment, destroying homes, hospitals and people’s lives. The photograph of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, sitting bloodied and in shock in an ambulance has burned itself into the conscience of the world. Franciscan men and women are working there and Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, a Franciscan, is the Latin Rite vicar apostolic of the city.

The Rev. Michael Perry, O.F.M., the minister general of the (Franciscan) Order of Friars Minor, has recently issued a “Message Concerning Syria.” Drawing on statements of Pope Francis and the deep peace tradition of Franciscans, Father Michael calls all parties to “silence your weapons; put an end to hatred and every kind of violence, so that all may find and walk the path of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Father Michael also asks that Aleppo be designated a safe zone. Realizing the difficulties involved in such a move, he calls the operatives to use “lessons and solutions acquired in previous conflicts.” Importantly Father Michael does not call for denominational safe zones but zones which would “allow the whole population … to receive essential humanitarian aid without discrimination, to find safety and security, and to recover some trust and hope in a speedy solution, which would be motivated by peace alone.” One can only hope that the “Message Concerning Syria” is widely read and taken to heart by world leaders.

Tags: Syria Aleppo Syrian Conflict

21 October 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this September 2014 photo, internally displaced Chaldean children prepare to serve the altar in a camp in Erbil. As violence escalates amid renewed efforts to retake Mosul and the Nineveh Plain region from ISIS, refugees continue to eke out an existence in camps. You can read more about the Iraqi Christian Exodus in the Autumn 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees Chaldean Church

21 October 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Iraqi refugees in a camp in Syria’s Hassake province, seen on 19 October, await an end to the war. (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

Refugees want to return to Mosul (Fides) “The people hospitalized in refugee camps in Erbil, in Dibaga and Kirkuk are concerned,” says Mustafa Jabbar, coordinator in Erbil of the Federation of Christian Organizations for International Volunteer Service. “Many have friends and relatives forced to stay in Mosul, but many are relieved because they think that one could, with this new advance, try to go home, even if they do not know what they will find. It is feared that homes, businesses, places of worship have been destroyed…”

Fatal explosions and gunfire rock Kirkuk (Al Jazeera) ISIS fighters have attacked multiple targets in and around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, in a major assault that appeared aimed at diverting Iraqi and Kurdish forces from a massive push against Mosul, the armed group’s last major stronghold in Iraq…

ISIS attacks police compound, power plant in Kirkuk (Los Angeles Times) With an offensive underway to oust Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, militants staged a surprise attack early Friday about 95 miles south in Kirkuk…

Christian refugees facing persecution in Germany (AINA) The refugees of Christian descent who fled persecution in places like Syria and Northern Iraq are facing different kinds of attacks in Germany. According to the findings of a new survey from the Christian advocacy group Open Doors USA, religious minorities who seek safe haven in the European nation are finding a general lack of protection. Since February, nearly 800 Christian and Yazidi refugees were attacked by others at the relief centers and camps…

Russia extends ceasefire in Syrian airstrikes (Vatican Radio) Russia says a break in fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo has been extended for one more day. The announcement came moments after German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed anew for a long-term ceasefire in the devastated city following her talks with European leaders meeting in Berlin…

At least 1,500 arrests in Ethiopian state of emergency, claims news agency (The Guardian) Ethiopian authorities have arrested more than 1,500 people since declaring a state of emergency less than two weeks ago, according to a statement published by state-controlled news agency Fana. The body set up by authorities to oversee the state of emergency said 1,120 people had been arrested in the towns of Shashemene and West Arsi — south of the capital, Addis Ababa — for “violence and property damage…”

Islamic State threat to Kerala Christians worries leaders (Herald Malaysia Online) The Times of India daily recently reported that Kerala police have busted an ISIS-inspired cell. Interrogations reportedly revealed that the Islamic militant outfit was targeting churches and institutions run by “a denomination of Christians of Syrian lineage.” The report did not specify the denomination, but said they were targeted because their ancestors had killed Muslims during the historical crusades. Those from Syrian traditions form the bulk of Christians in Kerala…

Tags: Syria Iraq Ethiopia Kerala Iraqi Refugees

20 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Sister Lovely Kattumattam is one of the heroic Nirmala Dasi Sisters serving the poor outside Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Many of the CNEWA heroes we’ve met are people who feel an especially close connection to the suffering people they serve. Take, for example, Sister Lovely Kattumattam, a Nirmala Dasi Sister who works among the poor near Mumbai. A few years ago we profiled these ‘Slumdog’ Sisters, and described their mission:

In 1971, Syro–Malabar Catholic Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam of Trichur, Kerala, founded the Society of Nirmala Dasi Sisters [S.N.D.S.] with a mission to care for society’s destitute, abandoned and marginalized. Today, its 265 sisters operate more than 30 homes, centers and clinics that serve impoverished communities, orphaned children, the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled, single mothers and their children, substance abusers, persons with H.I.V./AIDS and persons affected by Hansen’s disease. Though the sisters primarily work in Kerala, they also run facilities in other states in India as well as overseas, in Hungary and Kenya.

In 1989, Mumbai’s Syro–Malabar church leaders invited the Nirmala Dasi Sisters to minister and provide basic social services to the impoverished residents of Dharavi.

“They had great experience in this field and a very good name,” explains Father Francis Eluvathingal, chancellor of the Mumbai–based Eparchy of Kalyan. “So they were chosen for this work by the eparchy.”

Since their arrival in Dharavi, the Nirmala Dasi Sisters have disappointed no one, quickly becoming leaders within the local church and a lifeline for Dharavi’s residents.

...“It’s a blessing from the Lord to work with the poor and needy,” explains Sister Lovely Kattumattam, who worked in Dharavi for seven years. She now works at a new Syro–Malabar Catholic social service facility in a different Mumbai suburb.

“People in Dharavi are not well mannered or cultured. They have their disagreements and fights. But the sisters work for peace, fellowship and love. We live there in the same simple facilities. We have a happy life despite shortages and the respect of the community because we’ve opted to live without.”

Reflecting on her life and ministry, she summed up her philosophy:

“It’s total chaos in Dharavi,” says Sister Lovely, thinking back on her seven years in the impoverished neighborhood. “But wherever we work, we work for the Lord.”

Read more about heroic sisters like the aptly-named Sister Lovely here. And learn more about their founder, Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam, another CNEWA hero, here.

20 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A woman in Ethiopia waits for a water truck to arrive. Ethiopia has suffered its worst drought in decades, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. To learn more, read When Rain Fails in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

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