Current Issue
December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
9 May 2016
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service

In this image from 2011, an Iraqi man inspects the damage at a Catholic church after attacks in Kirkuk. Despite predictions that Christianity could be wiped out of his war-torn homeland within five years, Chaldean Archishop Yousif Mirkis of Kirkuk said he believes in God's ultimate preservation. (photo: CNS/Khalil Al Anei, EPA)

Despite predictions that Christianity could be wiped out of his war-torn homeland within five years, an Iraqi Catholic cleric said he believes in God’s ultimate preservation.

“This prognosis may be of thinkers or politicians, but not of the believers,” Chaldean Archishop Yousif Mirkis of Kirkuk told Catholic News Service at an April trauma counseling training in this Lebanese mountain retreat town.

“When our faith reaches the edge, even to the point of death, there is always an intervention of God, something amazing happens,” said the archbishop. “This is the faith of the Old Testament witnessed in Exodus and (the) parting of the Red Sea, and in the New Testament with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, I don’t believe those who say that there won’t be Christians in Iraq.”

Iraq’s Christian population numbered about 1.4 million during the rule of Saddam Hussein, but figures now hover between 260,000 and 300,000 as political instability and persecution by Islamic State militants have drastically reduced their numbers. Other religious minorities, such as the Yezidis, also have been targets of vicious persecution by the extremists.

Half of the remaining Christians in Iraq struggle to remain true to their faith or flee to other countries due to dangers the Islamic State poses, including forced conversion to Islam. Every year, the Christian population decreases by 60,000-100,000, according to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, in a report issued late last year.

Archishop Mirkis has argued otherwise from his experience of helping those who have fled extremist persecution and are displaced within their homeland. He said healing in his diocese to those traumatized has taken a number of forms, whether using puppets, theatrical scenes, art, song and poetry as well as group “talk.”

“We try to use all the possibilities in our community and especially spiritual services such as masses, Bible study groups. The best thing is not to give up. We shall overcome,” he said of the 130,000 who fled from the 2014 Islamic State militant takeover of Mosul and the Ninevah Plain. “There are too many questions for us about Daesh and what is to follow,” he said, using the militants’ name in Arabic.

“But this is not the first time we experienced this kind of persecution,” he said, noting past times of Christian persecution.

The Aid to the Church in Need report references an exodus from Iraq of Christians fearing ethnic cleansing and potential genocide at an unprecedented pace while the world has stood by. It warned that “Christianity is on course to disappear from Iraq within possibly five years — unless emergency help is provided on a massively increased scale at an international level.”

In late April, Islamic State militants blew up Mosul’s iconic clock tower church, known as al-Latin or al-Sa’ah Church. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako denounced the destruction.

“We have received news that the ISIS elements blew up the archaeological Latin church belonging to the Dominican fathers, located in the center of Mosul. We strongly condemn the targeting of the Christian Church and also condemn the targeting of mosques and other houses of worship,” he said.

The patriarch urged Iraqi politicians to speed up the national reconciliation process, while imploring the international community and religious authorities to do more to end ongoing sectarian conflict in order to protect the country and its citizens.

But the storming of Iraq’s parliament building by Shiite protesters in late April underscored the extreme fragility of the government and plunged Iraq into a deeper political crisis as divisions spread not just among Sunni Muslims, Shiites and Kurds, but splinter each grouping from within.

Archbishop Mirkis said: “Those who decide to emigrate are making a very hard decision. Those who stay, we try to help them.”

He said his diocese has taken in 800 families and 400 university students who want to continue their studies in Iraq, even though their parents have emigrated.

“Christians who are stable in Iraq discovered that they can do more than be Christian only. By welcoming the displaced and helping them, many have overcome the trauma they have experienced,” he said. “I spend all my time, not only with material needs of the traumatized, but also addressing their psychological and spiritual healing.

“Our faith is very rich. It dies, if you don’t use it,” he said. “Please use the faith you have. Don't let it die inside you.”

9 May 2016
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis meets Catholics and Muslims taking part in an interfaith colloquium.
(photo: Vatican Radio/L’Osservatore Romano)

Catholics, Muslims highlight shared beliefs for social, political life (Vatican Radio) Catholic and Muslim experts in interreligious dialogue have issued a joint communique stressing their shared beliefs as a basis for peaceful coexistence and cooperation for the common good...

European Award for Armenian church in Turkey (Fides) The Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Giragos in Diyarbakir has been awarded for its recent restoration by the European Union, but the awards ceremony and the laying of the commemorating plaque of the award cannot be held at the place of worship, which since March has been confiscated by the Turkish military authorities for security purposes, along with other churches in the historic center of the city...

56 hours with the Russian army in Syria (The Washington Post) Last weekend, I received a call from the Russian Foreign Ministry offering a spot on a three-day press tour with the Russian army to Syria, exact dates and destinations TBD. There was also a special warning for American journalists coming aboard. Write poorly about us, an official said, and “this will be your first and last trip...”

Closed Roman Catholic church in New York becomes Malankara Catholic church (The Journal News) A Yonkers Roman Catholic church shuttered last year in a parish consolidation will celebrate its rebirth Saturday as an Eastern Rite congregation. The Rev. Sunny Mathew, 43, the new congregation’s pastor, said the move to Yonkers realizes a longtime dream for his parishioners, who began their congregation in 1984 in New York City. Most Holy Trinity Church at 18 Trinity Plaza will be occupied by St. Mary’s Malankara Catholic Church, an Indian congregation that for 17 years worshiped in the chapel at Salesian High School in New Rochelle...

Is the era of great famine over? (The New York Times) The worst drought in three decades has left almost 20 million Ethiopians — one-fifth of the population — desperately short of food. And yet the country’s mortality rate isn’t expected to increase: In other words, Ethiopians aren’t starving to death. I’ve studied famine and humanitarian relief for more than 30 years, and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw during a visit to Ethiopia last month...

New York Episcopal church welcomes flock of destroyed Serbian Orthodox cathedral (The New York Times) As Desa Boskovic stepped into the shadow of the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava in Manhattan on Sunday afternoon, her mind grew clouded with memory. It was there that she sought refuge as an immigrant from Serbia in 1973, hopeful for some sense of familiarity in this alien city. Its grand gothic arches have welcomed her every Sunday since, framing her family as they observed baptisms, weddings and funerals. Now she wept as she beheld the scorched skeleton of the cathedral that a week earlier had gone up in flames, generations of devotion reduced to rubble...

6 May 2016
CNEWA staff

From NCR:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and chair of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), recently spent a week, 6-12 April 2016, in Iraqi Kurdistan on a pastoral visit to that region’s displaced Christian families. National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher was a part of this small delegation that included fellow CNEWA board member, Bishop William Murphy of the diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, head of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.

Check out the interview below. And be sure to check out other reports on this journey, led by CNEWA’s President John E. Kozar, right here.

6 May 2016
CNEWA staff

A man attends a Catholic liturgy in a displaced-persons camp in Ainkawa, Iraq, last month.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Paul Jeffrey was one of several journalists who accompanied CNEWA chair Cardinal Timothy Dolan on his pastoral visit to Iraq last month. On the CNS blog today, he offers this little slice of life inside a camp for displaced Iraqis:

When a colleague and I arrived at the Ashti camp for internally displaced families on the outskirts of Ainkawa last month, we asked for the “abouna,” the Arabic word for father, or priest. We were looking for Rogationist Father Jalal Yako, but he wasn’t in his small caravan, the modular container-like building that has become ubiquitous among the displaced in northern Iraq.

In response to my one-word query, people pointed down a crowded passageway. We headed that direction, occasionally querying, “Abouna?” Everyone kept pointing us on, all the way to the toilets. There stood the priest, with several construction workers, remodeling some troubled toilets.

I’m not sure whether Father Yako’s seminary education prepared him for this, but today he’s the de facto mayor of a village of 250 families, about a thousand people. Toilets are just one of his challenges.

When tens of thousands of people fled from the Islamic State’s sweep through Mosul and Qaraqosh in 2014, they came to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees (they had crossed no international border), they weren’t eligible for assistance from international agencies. Neither the government in far-off Baghdad nor authorities in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan offered much help. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from Islamic State, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile. Twenty-one months later, the church remains the principal manager of aid. Providing spiritual care goes hand in hand with providing water, sanitation and electricity.

In the blog post, Father Yako offers this assessment:

“As a community, we have survived because of their solidarity, the solidarity of churches, friends, and humanitarian organizations. They have contributed a lot, perhaps because they have felt part of our people’s journey. We have resolved many problems here thanks to their help. We have many friends.”

Read more and see additional pictures here.

6 May 2016
Greg Kandra

In the video above, a Russian orchestra performs for troops and journalists in an ancient Roman amphitheater in Palmyra, Syria. (video: CNN/YouTube)

Air strike on refugee camp could be a war crime (BBC) An air strike on a Syrian refugee camp that reportedly killed at least 28 people could amount to a war crime, a senior UN official has told the BBC. Stephen O’Brien, the UN humanitarian affairs chief, called for an inquiry into the attack on the Kamouna camp in the northern Idlib province. Syrian or Russian forces are suspected. Syria’s military denied involvement in the strike on a rebel-held area...

Russian symphony performs in Palmyra, Syria (The New York Times) Russia has made its mark on Syria with the crash of bombs and the thud of artillery. On Thursday the Russians added gentler sounds: live classical music echoing through an ancient stone theater and into the eerie, empty desert. Extending its soft power into the Syrian conflict, Russia deployed a symphony orchestra led by one of its best-known conductors, Valery Gergiev, and the cellist Sergei P. Roldugin, an old and — according to the Panama Papers documents leaked last month — very wealthy friend of President Vladimir V. Putin. Their performance space was Palmyra, the city of ruins left by Roman and other ancient civilizations and ruined further by the depredations of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL...

Israel bombs Hamas in worst violence since war in 2014 (The Telegraph) Israel carried out air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Friday during the most serious escalation of hostilities since the last war against Hamas in 2014. The target of the air raids was “Hamas terror infrastructure”, according to an Israeli military statement. The strikes appear to have taken place in Beit Lahia, a suburb of Gaza City, and the southern town of Khuzaa. Both areas suffered severe damage during the 50-day war in July-August 2014...

Jordan’s prince discusses recent meeting at Vatican (Vatican Radio) “Citizenship is a question of pluralism, a question of recognizing the identity of the other on the basis of respect:” That’s what Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal has told Vatican Radio following an interfaith meeting in the Vatican on the theme “Shared values in Social and Political Life”...

Facing an ugly truth about Christian persecution (Crux) According to watchdog groups, there are 200 million Christians today living under the threat of physical violence, arrest, torture, imprisonment and death. In light of that epidemic, there’s a burning need to raise consciousness about the threats Christians face. At the same time, it’s also important to be scrupulously honest about the nature of those threats, so that fair-minded people don’t come to see this as a PR effort, or an exercise in wedge politics, rather than a genuine human rights calamity. In that spirit of candor, here’s an ugly truth to confront: There are occasions when Christians meet the enemy, and it’s us...

Vatican council: Christians and Buddhists should work together for the environment (Vatican Radio) The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has sent a message to the Buddhists of the world to mark the Feast of Vesakh, which commemorates the his birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha...

4 May 2016
CNEWA staff

Russia has a long and venerable tradition when it comes to Orthodox bell ringing. It’s a tradition that fell silent during the Soviet era, but has now jubilantly returned.

Returning with it: an increased demand for bell ringers.

The video below, from National Geographic, gives us a sample, along with a little background.

4 May 2016
Greg Kandra

A mother brings her child to the Daughters of St. Anne’s clinic in Ethiopia for a checkup. The country is facing its most severe drought into decades, and children in particular are suffering. Read more in When Rain Fails, in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

4 May 2016
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2015, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Louis Raphael Sako takes part in the Easter liturgy in Baghdad. This week, he called on Iraqi leaders to end the deterioration in his country. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Patriarch calls for reconciliation in Iraq (CNS) Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad urged Iraq’s leaders to put an end to the “institutional, economic and security deterioration” in the country. “We call upon you, with a saddened heart and sorrow because of what is happening in Iraq and because the people are suffering from violence, poverty and misery,” Sako said in a statement...

The sad reality of Syria at war (The New York Times) Declan Walsh recently visited Damascus, the war-weary Syrian capital, and the government-controlled part of the divided city of Aleppo. Here, he answers selected readers’ questions about his reporting trip to Syria, life in devastated parts of the country, and how Syrians view their prospects...

Indian Supreme Court: person can change religion, but not caste ( In a significant decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that a person can change religion and faith but not the caste to which they belong. The Supreme Court has said that caste has linkage to birth and person changing religion can’t change his caste. The Judgment came in the case of Mohammed Sadique, who had contested election from a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes in Punjab...

Report: religious freedom deteriorating around the world (RNS) Religious freedom remains under “serious and sustained assault” around the globe, according to a new annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve,” commission chairman Robert P. George said Monday. “At worst, they have spiraled further downward...”

Negotiations continue for release of kidnapped priest (Vatican Radio) Two months after the massacre perpetrated by a terrorist commando in the nursing home in Aden, where four Missionaries of Charity were killed along with 12 other people, there is still no certain news about father Tom Uzhunnalil. In the absence of verified information, rumors continue to circulate on the current negotiations to secure his release...

Azerbaijan says Armenia repeatedly violates cease fire (TASS) The Armenian armed forces have violated the ceasefire 120 times on various sections of the frontline over the past 24 hours using, in particular, 60mm mortars, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday...

Pope greets participants in interfaith meeting (Vatican Radio) Ahead of his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with participants of a meeting between the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies of Amman and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Fourth meeting between the two institutions had for its main topic the theme: “Shared values in social and political life: citizens and believers...”

3 May 2016
Greg Kandra

Sister Micheline Lattouff stands in her office in Deir el Ahmar, Lebanon. “I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation,” she says, “my mission is to show him the spark and light it.”
(photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)

In a corner of the world facing increasing desolation and despair, Sister Micheline Lattouff is a true hero. She has devoted her life to helping provide healing and hope to Syrian refugees in Lebanon:

“There is an ancient saying, ‘The candle that is just smoking, not lighted, still has a life in it, still has hope in it,’ ” says Sister Micheline. “I have no right to turn it off. I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation, my mission is to show him the spark and light it.”

She began this journey at the age of 17. While on a high school retreat, she met a Lebanese sister of the Good Shepherd who had lived in Sudan and worked with women prisoners.

“These women were in bad shape — no toilets, no sanitary napkins — losing their dignity with no one to help them,” she says. “I was inspired that these were not nuns who just prayed; they were nuns who helped the poor. That is when I decided to become a Good Shepherd sister,” she says. “The mission of the Good Shepherd Sisters is to defend the rights of women, children and families — to help them regain their dignity.”

...She arrived in the Bekaa Valley in 2004, seven years before the war in Syria began, and soon began teaching in nearby Deir el Ahmar.

“I felt this region needed support, like sheep without a shepherd,” says the 44-year-old sister, citing concerns such as high rates of illiteracy. According a 2009 study by the United Nations Development Program, some 16.8 percent of adults in the Bekaa region cannot read — the highest rate in Lebanon. Many students drop out, drifting away from school to focus on farm work. Worse still, many become embroiled in the drug trade, which thrives in the region due to the cultivation of cannabis crops.

“The children were watering the hashish,” she says. “So, I started thinking: ‘What can I do for the children in this area?’ ”

Wasting no time, the nun sought resources — faculty volunteers, a public space and basic materials — and in late 2005 started an after-school program. It opened for just two hours each afternoon, but those two hours allowed for healthy socializing, study and play. It gave students another choice in how to spend their time, and provided an incentive to stay in school.

Read the rest of her story. She summed this up beautifully and reflected on her vocation in a 2015 interview:

ONE: What have been some of your more rewarding moments?

ML: The best moment for me is when I see the children happy, successful in their studies and their life, when I see them able to pass through the difficulties and continue to achieve.

ONE: What have been some of your more difficult moments?

ML: The more difficult moments are when I have nothing to give the refugees. It is so difficult for me.

ONE: What thoughts sustain you during difficult times?

ML: I believe in human beings and God. I believe that God is capable of changing a person, when I see people improving from work, when I see success of people and developing.

3 May 2016
Greg Kandra

An image of Our Lady of Sinj is decorated at St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church in Chicago. In Catholic tradition, May is the month devoted to Mary. Learn more about the traditions of Balkan emigrants living in Chicago in Sharing Space in an Adopted Home from the May 2004
edition of ONE. (photo: Hryhoriy Prystay)

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |