10 April 2017
The altar is seen 3 April at the destroyed Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh, Iraq.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
The next few months will determine whether Iraqi Christians can return to their homes in areas where Islamic State had been routed, according to Msgr. John E. Kozar, international president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Msgr. Kozar, who was in Iraq 31 March — 5 April, cited several daunting challenges for Iraqi Christians who return to their country: infrastructure woes, burned- and bombed-out buildings, desecrated churches and security issues.
“Three liberated villages outside of Dahuk (in northern Iraq) are being resettled as we speak,” Msgr. Kozar told Catholic News Service in 7 April telephone interview from CNEWA headquarters in New York.
“The reason people are very hesitant to go back there is the reason of security. They hold very close to them the reign of terror ISIS had produced. They’re looking for some reassurance from the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Peshmerga government,” the military force that has liberated areas previously under Islamic State control, Msgr. Kozar said.
“The second reason would be there’s no infrastructure. There’s no water, no electricity, no sewage,” he said. “Those would be the single most difficult challenges that need to be overcome. The next two, three months will tell the tale.”
One town, Batnaya, was 85 percent destroyed by aerial bombing, according to Msgr. Kozar. “That one, I don’t know what the future might be for that. It looked to me like something out of World War II,” he said. Another town, Baqova, he described as “more burned out — some aerial bombing but more internal bombing — but all burned out.”
A third, somewhat larger town of 25,000, Teleskov, was “only occupied for nine days by ISIS. It was liberated after nine days, but it was then used by the Peshmerga as a staging area until three or four weeks ago. They use the distinction, ‘It was liberated, but not free,’” Msgr. Kozar said. “People accepted that to drive out ISIS from other towns and build up a fortification line so it would not come back.”
All three towns had significant Chaldean Catholic populations. Chaldeans are one of the Eastern churches, made up primarily of Iraqi Catholics.
A nun walks through the hallway of the badly damaged convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Qaraqosh, Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Msgr. Kozar also visited Qaraqosh, one of the cities in northern Iraq with a significant percentage of Assyrian Catholics. He also visited with sisters who had a convent in the city.
Qaraqosh “is heavily damaged but not destroyed,” he said. “There are 4,000-5,000 homes burned out, but the structures — thanks be to God — are pretty fair, but totally looted ... including seven Catholic churches and one Orthodox church, burned internally, pillaged and defaced.”
Msgr. Kozar recalled the extent of destruction at Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh. The church courtyard, he said, was “all filled with soot, and there’s a heap of ashes in the center” as Islamic State had taken all of the church’s sacramentals, piled them up at the courtyard, and burned them. “ISIS had used it for target practice,” he added. “I even brought back shell casings as a little memento of the tragedy there. There was so much target practice there that they shot out two pillars in the courtyard.
“They defaced it in Arabic and German. ISIS had written really vile things about Jesus and the church. The convent was burned and gutted. Everything was stolen. Anything holy in their mind was burned,” he said. “That town had 52,000 Catholics that fled. Almost no one has returned there yet, even though technically it’s under the control of the Iraqi military and, in some sense, under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia.”
Most Iraqi Christian are not prepared to go back, he said.
“What will they do? It’s really a very difficult time. Even though, on the one hand, ISIS has been routed within most instances, there’s still pockets in Iraq where ISIS has control.”
On the other hand, staying in the refugee camps is not a good option. “Some of the ISIS fighters have shaved their beards and are trying to sneak into the (refugee) camps,” Msgr. Kozar said. “This is part of that reign of terror.”
10 April 2017
The clinic of Shajaiya in Gaza offers care to mothers and infants of all backgrounds.
(photo: Wissam Nassar)
In the March 2017 edition of ONE, Hazem Balousha reports on a clinic operated by the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.) in Gaza. Here, he offers some additional impressions.
As a journalist, you become familiar with many things as you work in the field and you meet and listen to people.
I worked as a journalist for more than 17 years, mainly in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. I met thousands of people, I heard various stories, and I read millions of words from papers, books, and online.
Yet I was surprised when I visited the N.E.C.C. clinic of Shajaiya, east of Gaza strip — first, from the services they provide, and then from the stories of people who are going there to receive the health care.
I thought Gazans are less interested of having big families. But when it came to Shajaiya, it was a different. Most of women that I met and interviewed there want to have big families, with at least six children, despite the poverty and limited income.
I was curious about why a young couple with limited means would want to have a big family.
I asked one of the pregnant woman — expecting her 10th baby — if, looking back on her life, she would do things differently now. She said, “No,” and added, “We like kids and big families.”
She told me that she advised her two married daughters not to have too many children — just five or six. One of her daughters got married almost four years ago and she is expecting her third baby. I am still surprised, as both daughters live in poverty.
I was worried when I read the recent U.N. report that Gaza Strip population will exceed three million within 14 years. This small place that is facing a critical shortage of basic needs will have that number of people sharing the services and infrastructure.
But none of that seems to concern these young, growing families — which is another surprise I found in Gaza. Despite the difficulties they face, they somehow have faith in the future. As I noted in my story, one of the mothers told me:
“Of course we cannot predict the future. The economic situation is difficult, but we should build a family and live in peace, and God will definitely provide us with livelihood and enable us to get food and drink.”
Read more about the clinic Where Hope is Kindled in the March 2017 edition of ONE.
And to get an intimate glimpse of the clinic, check out the video below.
10 April 2017
Mourners attend the 10 April funeral for victims of a bomb attack the previous day at the Orthodox Church of St. George in Tanta, Egypt. Also 9 April, an explosion went off outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was presiding over the Palm Sunday service. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Hossam, EPA)
10 April 2017
Security personnel investigate the scene of a bomb explosion on 9 April inside the Orthodox Church of St. George in Tanta, Egypt. That same day an explosion went off outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was presiding over the Palm Sunday service. (photo: CNS/Khaled Elfiqi, EPA)
Pope condemns Cairo terror attack (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis condemned the terror attack on a Coptic church dedicated to St. George — Mar Girgis — in the city of Tanta, north of Cairo, which killed upward of two dozen people and injured nearly 60 others...
Vatican official: Egypt attacks won’t stop pope’s visit (CNS) Despite recent and repeated terrorist attacks against Egypt’s minority Christian communities, Pope Francis will not cancel his visit to Egypt. “The pope’s trip to Egypt proceeds as scheduled,” Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service by email 10 April. The pope is scheduled to meet governmental and interfaith leaders during a 28-29 April visit to Cairo...
Christians and Muslims in Iraq march together for peace (Vatican Radio) This Holy Week in Iraq, Christians and Muslims will walk for 140 km [87 miles] through the Nineveh Plain in the name of peace and the end of violence in a once mostly Christian inhabited area. The peace march is supported by the Chaldean Patriarchate, which declared 2017 as “the Year of Peace...”
Christian worshipers flock to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday (Haaretz) Crowds of faithful gathered at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Many waved palm fronds to symbolize how worshipers greeted Jesus over 2,000 years ago as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem...
Christians in Kerala welcome Palm Sunday (Mathrubhumi.com) The Christian community in Kerala observed Palm Sunday with prayer meetings and processions with palm leaves...
In managing drought, Ethiopia serves as a model (The National) The Horn of Africa is suffering its worst drought in decades, with devastating humanitarian consequences. Two districts in South Sudan are officially in famine. Areas of Somalia and Yemen are on the brink. Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of death, while millions face severe disruption to their lives and livelihoods. The drought has affected Ethiopia too. In 2015, it experienced its most severe dry spell in 50 years, and there are fears that 2017’s rains will fail too. But in this East African country, once the poster child for poverty in Africa, no one is talking about famine. Unlike Somalia and South Sudan, Ethiopia is doing something right...
7 April 2017
An altar server carries incense through new Coptic Catholic parish community center still under construction in Izbet al Nakhl, in northern Cairo. To learn more about the lives and challenges facing Copts in Egypt’s capital, read Anxiety in Cairo in the newly published March 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: David Degner)
7 April 2017
Tags: Egypt Coptic Catholic Church Coptic Urbanization
Syrian shepherds tend their flock near the damaged Shayrat airfield, struck overnight by U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles, southeast of the central and third largest Syrian city of Homs. (photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. launches cruise missiles on Syrian airbase (Al Jazeera) The United States on Friday fired dozens of cruise missiles at a government-controlled airbase in Syria, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town that killed scores of civilians. The Pentagon said 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean at the Shayrat airfield in Homs province. At least six people were killed in the early morning strike, according to the Syrian army, which denounced the U.S. aggression as a violation of international law…
Catholic leaders in Syria criticize U.S. missile strikes (CNS) Two prominent Catholic leaders in Syria criticized the U.S. missile strikes against their nation, wondering why they occurred before investigations into the origins of chemical attacks reported on 4 April. “It is a shame that the United States administration didn’t wait until an honest United Nations investigation was thoroughly made into what is said to be a chemical air strike in Khan Shaykun,” said Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph, excoriating “the agglomerate media and the supremacist policy of the USA.” Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, O.F.M., who serves Latin-rite Catholics in Aleppo, told the Rome-based Fides news agency that he was baffled by “the speed with which it was decided and carried out, without any adequate investigation into the tragic massacre with chemical weapons which took place in Idlib province.” He added that the attack “opens new disturbing scenarios for all…”
Are Francis and Trump now at odds over Syria too? (Crux) Until this week, it had been assumed that despite obvious differences over issues such as immigration and climate change, the Vatican under Francis and the White House under Trump at least agreed that now is not the time for an overt push for regime change in Syria. If “Assad must go” sticks as Trump’s line on Syria, then we may be able to add another item to the list of ways in which the White House under Trump and the Vatican under Francis don’t see eye-to-eye…
Gaza’s ailing health care system (Reuters) For many patients suffering from life-threatening diseases in the Gaza Strip, treatment in neighboring Israel or the occupied West Bank is a much sought-after option. But Israel tightly restricts Palestinian passage from the Gaza Strip. Gaza, an enclave of two million Palestinians, suffers from a chronic shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and specialist physicians, says Ashraf al Qidra, a spokesman for Gaza’s Health Ministry…
Gaza’s only fisherwoman navigates dangerous waters (Al Jazeera) The world may not know her name, but anyone who has visited Gaza’s seaport will recognise Madleen Kullab. Although male colleagues initially belittled her, Kullab says she eventually proved herself through the volume of fish that she caught: “Some of them said that I must have a supernatural power that helped me,” she said with a wide smile. Like the rest of Gaza’s 4,000 fishermen, Kullab has struggled to make ends meet in the Israeli-defined six-nautical-mile fishing area to which they are limited…
Young priest returns to Iraq to bless his village (AINA) A newly ordinated priest has described returning to his home village in northern Iraq after it was finally liberated from ISIS extremists. The Rev. Martin Banni, who as a seminarian in August 2014 fled Karamlesh holding the Blessed Sacrament, reported to Aid to the Church in Need how he had just gone back to the village in the Nineveh Plain, carrying the Sacred Host. Father Banni, who is in his mid-20’s, described his joy at the homecoming to the village’s Church of St. Addai…
Justice denied to the Christian victims in Orissa (Fides) “There are many little-known and never recounted incidents which occurred in the district of Kandhamal,” says A.P. Saha, a judge of the High Court of Delhi, presenting a new research on anti-Christian massacres that occurred in Orissa in 2008. The research, signed and published by two authors, lawyers Vrinda Grover and Saumya Uma, offers unusual and unpublished stories, revealing the shortcomings in managing justice to the victims. “Justice was denied to the most vulnerable and marginalized people such as Adivasi and Dalit Christians. The poor and the marginalized do not receive justice: this is a serious matter of concern for all of us if we want to save the Indian Constitution. The old saying is really true: Justice delayed is justice denied…”
6 April 2017
Tags: Syria India Gaza Strip/West Bank United States Indian Christians
Michal Kozlowski, left, and Nick Sinopoli are among the high school students organizing Project Syria LIVE, a fundraiser for CNEWA being held in Sleepy Hollow, New York on 28 April.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
At a time when a lot of teenagers are planning for the prom or looking forward to summer break, one group from New York is planning a big fundraiser to help the people of Syria.
“It started at World Youth Day in Krakow,” says Michal Kozlowski, a junior at Regis High School in New York City. “One of my friends I met there is from Syria and he started telling me about his brother, who lives under ISIS. He was speaking from the heart about what he had to do just to survive. Then Pope Francis spoke to us and said, ‘The leaders of today dream in their comfy couches but they don’t get out of that couch and make that dream a reality.’ The crowd roared and I thought: ‘I’ve got to do something.”
That “something” is a charity called Relief United, a consortium of 10 public and private schools in the greater New York area that will host a fundraiser called Project Syria LIVE for CNEWA on 28 April:
The fundraiser for refugees will take place at Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow, NY from 5:30pm — 10:00pm and will provide a fun night for the community which will include a “Battle of Bands” comprised of local bands and other talented youth from local high schools along with special guests such as “Voice” finalist, Amanda Ayala. The evening will also feature speakers and exhibits highlighting the plight of the displaced, with a special focus on teenaged refugees. Admission is $15 and can be purchased at Relief United’s online Eventbrite, reliefunited.org. Tickets at the door will cost $20. A variety of food trucks will also be onsite to ensure a fun, well fed evening. 100 percent of donations and profits will go directly to CNEWA.
You can read more about the project here.
“Hopefully,” Michal says, “this can have an impact similar to what I had at World Youth Day. We want to organize energetic youth under a common, good goal to do something good.”
“This is something we feel passionate about,” adds Nick Sinopoli, another junior from Regis working with Michal on the project. “It’s something we can do to make a real difference in the world.”
It’s a remarkable undertaking, and CNEWA is privileged to be a part of it — and grateful to the young people who are putting it together to help our brothers and sisters in need.
To learn more, visit the Relief United website, or check out the organization’s GoFundMe page.
6 April 2017
A volunteer works to clean the Chaldean Catholic church of Mar Addai in Iraq. Finally liberated from ISIS, the church will celebrate Palm Sunday for the first time in three years.
(photo: Paul Thabit Mekko/Facebook)
Some wonderful news from Iraq:
“We will celebrate Palm Sunday in Karamles, one of the towns in the Nineveh plain” occupied and devastated by the Islamic State (ISIS). The function will be held “in the church of Mar Addai, we’ve cleaned it up these days” (see photo) and “it will be broadcast live on Facebook,” says the Rev. Paul Thabit Mekko. The 41-year-old Chaldean priest from Mosul can barely hide his “enthusiasm, but also emotion” just days before the first celebration in the Christian town for three years now. “It will be a community celebration,” he adds, a community that meets again just at the eve of Passover. A real resurrection, but also the first Easter of liberation "from Daesh [Arabic acronym for the IS, or ISIS].
“I will concelebrate together with the Karamles,” says the Chaldean priest. He continues, “at least 10 buses are scheduled to leave from Erbil, for a total number of about 400 people.” These are people originally from “Karamles, who still live in shelters and rented homes” in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Added to these are “dozens people who come in private cars and means of transport.”
Father Paul is responsible for the refugee camp “Eyes of Erbil,” on the outskirts of the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where hundreds of thousands of Christians (along with Muslims and Yazidis) in time have found shelter following the rise of the ISIS. There still 140 families, about 700 people in all, with 46 mini-apartments in the camp and an area for the collection and distribution of aid, a nursery for toddlers as well as a kindergarten and a secondary school. Many of these refugees are from Karamles.
“In the last few weeks,” says Father Paul, “many people come to the town every day to fix up their houses, trying to make the area new, although it is currently not possible to predict a date for for the return.” In Karamles, adds, “the situation is still difficult. We have about 800 homes, 200 of which are burned, then another 90 have been completely destroyed; hundreds more are damaged for various reasons. The destruction is everywhere.”
Also, to watch the Palm Sunday liturgy on Facebook, visit this link.
Meanwhile, for more on the plight of Christians in Iraq, read “God Wants Me Here,” a web exclusive story in the March 2017 edition of ONE.
6 April 2017
Students attend classes taught by the Daughters of Mary at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in Pallanad, India. The church is working to help children victimized by alcoholism and abuse in their families. Read more about efforts at Breaking the Cycle in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Don Duncan)
6 April 2017
In the video above, Pope Francis meets at the Vatican with imams from Britain and tells them the most important thing is the capacity to listen. (video:Rome Reports/YouTube)
Pope meets with Catholic-Muslim delegation (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Wednesday with English Cardinal Vincent Nichols and four Muslim leaders from Britain who came to highlight the deep-rooted interfaith relations among the different religious communities in the UK today...
ISIS executes 33 in Syria (CNN) ISIS killed 33 people execution-style in eastern Syria on Wednesday, according to a monitoring group. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the terror organization carried out the mass killing in the the al-Mayadin desert near the strategic city of Deir Ezzor on Wednesday morning, it said, adding that its activists were “able to monitor” the incident...
With healthcare faltering in Gaza, more seek care in Israel (Reuters) For many patients suffering from life-threatening diseases in the Gaza Strip, treatment in neighboring Israel or the occupied West Bank is a much sought-after option. But Israel tightly restricts Palestinian passage from the Gaza Strip, one of its bitterest enemies. Although it exempts from the ban Gazans seeking “life-saving or life-changing medical treatment” if it is unavailable in the territory, crossing the border isn’t easy...
The Paschal Letter of His Beatitude Gregorios III (ByzCath.org) “Children of the Resurrection” is a beautiful title first used by Our Lord Jesus Christ in his discussion with a group of Sadducean Jews, who denied the resurrection of the dead. Christ countered their argument by saying that human beings after death “are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:36) He added, “Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” (Luke 20: 37-38; cf. Matthew 22: 31-32) For each of you, this means that because you have been created in the image and likeness of God, you are a child of God, life and resurrection...