Current Issue
July, 2019
Volume 45, Number 2
2 March 2018
Greg Kandra

The Rev. Thabet Habeb Yousef, a Chaldean Catholic priest from Iraq, says the people of his town are working to rebuild and hold on to hope after the devastation of ISIS. (photo: Greg Kandra)

Earlier this week, a visitor from Iraq stopped by our New York offices: the Rev. Thabet Habeb Yousef, a 42-year-old Chaldean Catholic priest from the town of Karemlesch in the Diocese of Mosul.

Father Thabet serves as the sole parish priest at St. Adday Church in the town. With the arrival of ISIS in 2014, hundreds of Christians fled, settling in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. They have only recently begun to return home.

What they found has been heartbreaking.

“We have 756 houses,” Father Thabet explained. “241 were burned by ISIS, 112 houses were attacked by armed forces, destroyed completely. Others had partial damage. ISIS also damaged the infrastructure. Many mines were left in the fields, in the houses. You can’t imagine. It was a miserable situation.”

But slowly, he said, the people have begun to reconstruct the town, thanks to the generosity of various church charities. And he has worked, as well, to restore a sense of purpose and hope.

“We are working with zeal,” he said, “with spirituality, to give hope. I told them when we were away, ‘One day we have to return, we have to recover our identity.’ This was a way to encourage them to return.”

Related: Hard Choices

While he is in the United States — he will be visiting family in Detroit for a few day before returning to Mosul — he says he gets regular emails from his flock.

“Each day, they send me a message,” he explained. “They ask, ‘When will you return? We are waiting for you! Father, stay with us.’ They have been encouraged to stay and they want support.”

Much support, he said, comes from the faith of the people, and understanding their purpose in that part of the world.

“They have great hope now,” he said. “They know their vocation is to stay here, because Iraqi Christians have a mission here, to be the light in the darkness. The situation in Iraq is very bad. But the Muslims know we are Christians, we are people of peace and love. If we leave Iraq, we take that with us. Our future needs to be there.”

Christians have deep roots in the region, he said, going back to the first century.

“Our role is to understand that,” he said, “and to understand there is grace in being there. Many Christians around the world have extended their hands to us, to encourage us, so we have hope. We are one Body of Christ. So my message to the world is, please, do not forget us.”

And his message to his flock?

“Christians are still here,” he said with a smile. “ISIS tried to get rid of us. But they didn’t. Our return home means hope. It is a kind of a victory, really. The Christians in Iraq are heroes.”

For a powerful look at what some displaced Iraqis are facing when they return home, watch the video below by Raed Rafei.

2 March 2018
Greg Kandra

Students take a break from their studies at a school run by the Daughters of Charity in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. To learn more about the opportunities they are receiving, read A Letter from Ethiopia in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

1 March 2018
Greg Kandra

Sister Josephine Amala Valarmathi addresses a meeting of domestic workers in Chennai, India. The Indian religious sister has been providing legal aid to migrant workers to help them avoid exploitation. (photo: CNS/courtesy Global Sisters)

Eastern Ghouta bombardment: 674 Syrian civilians killed in 13 days (Al Jazeera) As many as 674 civilians have been killed in nearly two weeks by the continuous air attacks on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, a Syrian volunteer group has said. The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said on Friday that more than 670 people have been killed since the Syrian government, aided by Russia, launched an air offensive on the largely rural area outside the capital on 18 February...

New law sought for Kerala church properties ( Catholic reformists have launched a campaign for a new law to govern church properties in southern Kerala as the Indian state’s top court studies land deals involving Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church...

Indian sister answers call of migrants (Global Sisters Report) Sister Josephine Amala Valarmathi says providing free legal aid to migrant workers in their destination countries is a must to end their exploitation by employers and employment agents. Numerous cases could be avoided, she says, if Indian embassy officials would join civil society organizations in those countries to educate workers on local laws. The nun says her priority since 2003 has been to organize awareness programs for migrant workers on safe legal migration procedures so that they could avoid exploitation and fraudulent recruitments...

Pope to visit Geneva for anniversary of World Council of Churches (Vatican News) Pope Francis will travel to Geneva on 21 June to mark the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches. The announcement was made on Friday at a press conference in the Vatican by the WCC General Secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit and by Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity...

Archbishop recalls UN Human Rights Declaration (Vatican News) In the statement at the UN session this week, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič spoke about how this 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “represented a unique opportunity to reaffirm its pivotal importance as a reference point for global and cross-cultural discussion on human rights, fundamental freedoms and human dignity”...

1 March 2018
Greg Kandra

Students at the Father Roberts Institute in Lebanon join hands to perform the dabke, a folk dance native to the Levant. Learn how the church is serving Lebanon’s most vulnerable and Reaching the Margins in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)

1 March 2018
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, reflects on the controversy that led to the sacred site being closed earlier this week, and suggests a way forward. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)

Iranian Christians fear the worst (The New York Times) They sold their homes and possessions, quit their jobs, and left their country — they thought for good. The Iranians, mainly members of their nation’s Christian minorities, were bound for a new life in America after what should have been a brief sojourn in Austria for visa processing. But more than a year later, some 100 of them remain stranded in Vienna, their savings drained, their lives in limbo and the promise of America dead...

New mobile money initiative launched for refugees in Jordan (Reuters) The Central Bank of Jordan today signs an agreement with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch Mobile Money for Resilience (MM4R), a multifaceted grant initiative focused on financially empowering vulnerable groups such as low-income Jordanians and refugees. As the first initiative of its kind in the Middle East, MM4R will provide access to more advanced digital financial services, such as payment transfers, savings and credit...

Catholic priest stabbed to death in Kerala (Deccan Herald) A Catholic priest died after sustaining stab injuries in an attack by an employee of his parish, near the famed Kurisumudi pilgrim centre in Malayattoor in Ernakulam district, on Thursday. The Rev. Xavier Thelakat (51) was stabbed by a man identified as Johny, a sexton at the St. Thomas International Shrine in Kurisumudi where Father Xavier was the Rector...

Priest jailed for rape in India acquitted, freed ( A Catholic priest jailed two years ago on charges of raping a young girl was released 28 February after a court acquitted him of all charges in central Indian Madhya Pradesh state, a hotbed of anti-Christian activities...

For the birds: Armenian says ‘When you have a good pigeon, you get great respect’ ( David Shirvanyan has been keeping doves (a type of pigeon) since he was five years old, when he got a bird as a gift from a relative. He fell in love, and today he has 300. He plies his trade at Yerevan’s bird market, which operates on weekends, offering animals both for food and for pets...

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