13 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York visits a displacement center in Dawodiya, Iraq, on
10 April 2016. (photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
CNA’s Elise Harris had a chance to interview Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop William Murphy as they completed their pastoral visit to Iraq:
As he leaves Iraqi Kurdistan, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said what struck him most during the visit were the people’s faith and hope, despite violent persecution.
“These people from an earthly point of view don’t have much, but my, oh my, their sense of resilience and hope were simply astounding,” Cardinal Dolan said in an interview with CNA.
“Do they mourn the past? Yes they do, but they’re about the present and they’re about the future, and that’s a sentiment that will never leave me.”
Cardinal Dolan is the Archbishop of New York and chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
He was joined by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, a CNEWA board member, for a three-day visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he toured projects aimed at helping refugees and met with families, Church leaders, priests and religious who were displaced as a result of the 2014 Islamic State attacks.
The trip included visits to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, and to the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk. It concluded with a Mass celebrated by Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, in which representatives of several other rites were present, including the Latin and Chaldean rites, as well as the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
Both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Murphy spoke to CNA in a sit-down interview on the last day of the trip to share their thoughts and reflections about what they had seen and experienced.
What are your impressions after spending these days here in Iraq?
Cardinal Dolan: I would find my impression would be on both sides. First of all there’s an impression of sadness and sobriety in what these people have gone through. They’ve lost their homes, their homes that have been in their families for centuries, centuries and centuries, alright. They’ve lost a sense of security, they’ve lost in many ways a sense of stability that is so necessary for human existence. So there is an undeniable sense of sadness and somberness. But then I jump ahead to the other side of the spectrum to say that they haven’t lost their sense of hope. They haven’t lost their faith. We’ve heard people cry out in anguish, but they always have a sense of hope.
And I can’t get over it.
I mean look, you were at the liturgy yesterday. You talk about joyful, reverent, grateful prayer and praise, trusting in God. Of all people you’d think they would be almost dour in Mass. You’d wonder if some of them would be tempted not to come anymore because they were so crushed. We have our parishes at home for Sunday Mass where sometimes there’s a sense of heaviness and people don’t seem interested, and we’ve got prosperity, we’ve got peace, we’ve got stability. These people from an earthly point of view don’t have much, but my oh my, their sense of resilience and hope were simply astounding. And I see it in the priests, I see it in the sisters, I see it in the lay leaders, I see it in my brother bishops. Do they mourn the past? Yes they do, but they’re about the present and they’re about the future, and that’s a sentiment that will never leave me.
Is there a specific moment that was particularly moving for you?
Bishop Murphy and I have shared a number of them, and when we process this it’s amazing that we both have felt the same thing. One would be the desire of people just to go back home. Just to go back home. They’re not saying ‘take us to America.’ They’re saying ‘we just want to go back home, can you help us get back home?’ And number two, the second I think, would be that sense of hope and promise. They’re so resilient that their kind of making the best of what they’ve got. They have this trust in God and they say ‘we wanna go back home, we don’t know how long we’re going to be in exile, but let’s make the best of it. Let’s tend to the basics of faith, education, healthcare, food, shelter, protecting our kids. That’s basic civilization, that’s basic solidarity and they’re doing it magnificently.
As a journalist I sometimes find that people read the news and move on. How can we convince people to continue to be interested and invested in what’s happening here?
Bishop Murphy: One of the things is [that] I’ve been doing blogs each day. They’re not as long as a column, but you get them out. Everybody who’s on that website will see this regularly. Another thing we did was last year, we announced that in the middle of the summer, July-August, that weekend would be Middle East weekend. So we did what we Catholics do and took up another collection (laughs). But we were able to get some more money out of that, and I think we just need to take opportunities like that and call the attention of people to it. Then some people respond and you’ll find some groups will respond. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said: you start it with one, then another, then a third and fourth, and before you know it you have a movement. And I think we should really be encouraging those who catch on to this. To start to do some things on their own that would be helpful. We can’t be the only voice, for example, in Washington. We can be a voice, but we’re just the bishops. Take the decision on Christian genocide. What made the difference there? It wasn’t the fact that the names of x-amount of bishops were there, it was the fact that all of the sudden, people picked up on it. I’m not saying that’s changing things radically, but it’s another force for good.
Read the full interview here.
13 April 2016
During his just-completed trip to Iraq, CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, visited displaced Iraqis in a variety of settings.
Along with CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar and the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the cardinal toured camps and villages, stopped by schools and clinics, and prayed with the faithful in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It was an extraordinary trip, full of meaning and emotion — and, for many facing despair, it carried a message of a unwavering hope.
CNS photographer Paul Jeffrey captured some of these moments in candid, surprising and often moving photographs.
Check out the brief compilation of moments and images below.
13 April 2016
A woman displaced by terrorism listens as a delegation of Catholic leaders talks with residents of a camp for internally displaced families in Ainkawa, Iraq, on 9 April. To read accounts of the journey to Iraq of Cardinal Timothy Dolan and representatives from CNEWA, visit this link.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
13 April 2016
The damaged St. Sarkis Church in Sadad, Syria, is seen in 2013. Hundreds of Christian families are returning to Sadad, more than two years after their city was overrun by terrorists, a local official said. (photo:CNS/EPA)
Christians returning to Syria (CNS) Hundreds of Christian families are returning to Sadad, Syria, more than two years after their city was overrun by terrorists, a local official has said. Suleiman al Khalil, the mayor of Sadad, told Russian media on April 6 of the influx of Christians returning to the city after Russian forces defeated the al Nusra Front, reported Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples...
Assad invites delegation from Russian Orthodox Church to visit Syria (Fides) Syrian President Bashar al Assad has invited a “high-level delegation” of the Russian Orthodox Church to visit Syria, at a time when the Syrian government army seems to have reversed the destiny of the conflict with militias jihadist rebels, returning to recover large areas of the country thanks to military support received from Moscow...
Syria holds parliamentary elections (The Washington Post) Even as Syrian peace talks were scheduled to resume Wednesday in Geneva, President Bashar al-Assad took a major jab at the process: voting in parliamentary elections denounced as a farce by the opposition...
Pope’s visit to Lesbos comes at time of fear for refugees (CNS) Pope Francis’ trip to Lesbos, Greece, on 16 April comes at a frightening and critical time for tens of thousands of refugees and migrants waiting and wondering where they will end up, said members of Catholic aid agencies. Maristella Tsamatropoulou, spokeswoman for Caritas Hellas, the Catholic charity in Greece, said when rumors started swirling that Pope Francis would join Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on a visit to refugees, “we believed it immediately because our Pope is spontaneous; he’s a force of nature...”
Indian leader calls for equal Dalit rights (UCANews.com) Christians and Muslims in India have welcomed comments by the head of an eastern state favoring quotas for Dalit religious minorities in government jobs and educational institutions, a right enjoyed by their Hindu counterparts. “The time has come to give quotas to low-caste Muslims and Christians who have long been deprived of this right because of their religious affiliations,” Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said...
Saddam Hussein’s palace to become a museum (The Telegraph) The large mansion in Basra, southern Iraq, will become the first museum to open in the war-torn country in several years after serving as a mess hall for the British army during the war, according to National Geographic. The British pulled out from Basra in September 2007...
12 April 2016
Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home on 7 April to attend a church-run preschool in Ainkawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Photojournalist Paul Jeffrey of CNS this morning filed this item on the CNS blog. He is one of the journalists covering Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s pastoral visit to displaced Iraqis:
Every morning, as her son prepares to leave for preschool, the mother of 4-year old Luis Firas takes a stick of oil and makes the sign of the cross on his forehead.
Blessing is important for this Christian family, which fled from Mosul during the 2014 takeover of the area by Islamic State militants and today — like tens of thousands of other displaced — live in a small modular temporary shelter in Erbil, a town in northern Iraq controlled by Kurds.
As I photographed their morning ritual, Luis grabbed the stick and marked a cross on his mother’s forehead, also blessing her.
When the displaced families arrived in Erbil, a booming oil town fallen on hard economic times and the looming threat of Islamic State they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees — they had crossed no international border — they weren’t eligible for assistance from a variety of international agencies. Neither the governments of Iraq nor the autonomous Kurdistan offered much. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from ISIS, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile.
As almost 20 months have gone by, the church continues to be the de facto manager of aid. The displaced camps are managed by priests-turned-mayors, the schools run by nuns who are themselves survivors of what many consider genocide, the clinics staffed by volunteer doctors who go home at the end of the day to a tiny prefabricated house in a camp for the internally displaced.
Read it all.
12 April 2016
Sister Maria Hanna serves as the mother superior of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in northern Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena who serve the displaced people of Iraq are among the most selfless women we’ve encountered — and also, among the most heroic.
Their mother superior is Sister Maria Hanna, who fled with dozens of her sisters from their convent in Quaraqosh when ISIS swept through northern Iraq in August of 2014. They settled in Erbil, some 50 miles away, to begin serving others in the same boat:
Throughout this trauma, a backbone of support for the displaced Christians has been the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, some 73 of whom were also exiled from their convents across the plain. Led by Sister Maria Hanna, mother superior, the community initially administered to the displaced from their convent in Ainkawa. As families were moved from Ainkawa to Kasnazan, it became clear a second, satellite convent was required.
“We want to be with the people — to serve the people in the moment,” says Sister Maria. “If they move someplace else, we move with them.”
...The leitmotif evident across all the communities of displaced Christians living in towns across Iraqi Kurdistan is resilience. From the seemingly hopeless ashes of shock and despair of last autumn, green shoots of hope sprout. From Erbil to Dohuk to Suleimaniyah, the Christians, frequently marginalized from public services by the Kurdish authorities, are building their own structures of support and care. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena have been crucial to the slow but steady emergence of this infrastructure from the chaos of displacement.
Within weeks of their exile, Sister Maria Hanna and her community realized children needed special help in this crucial time.
“Children in the displaced families are the real victims,” she says. “They are really crushed by the situation. Entire families had to suddenly all live together in one room or tent and the children were not allowed to speak, to express fear or frustration. They couldn’t play. They couldn’t shout. Often they had to bear witness to domestic problems caused by the displacement.”
Responding to this need, the Dominican Sisters established a kindergarten and an orphanage in Ainkawa, filling in for institutions abandoned back home. These efforts have eased the burden on families — especially the children themselves, starving to learn and play.
“One of the boys was so excited to be going to kindergarten that, the night before the first day back, he slept the whole night with his backpack on,” Sister Maria Hanna says. “He did not want anything to come between him and his learning!”
In 2014, CNEWA’s Michael La Civita hailed her as one of the Catholics of the Year in Our Sunday Visitor:
Sister Maria Hanna has served during a tumultuous moment in Iraqi history. Her term has coincided with a decade-long ordeal that has included invasion, war, sectarian strife and persecution. Sister Maria Hanna has made a difference. She has mobilized her own exiled community, organizing volunteer relief committees and working with partners, such as Catholic Near East Welfare Association, to assess the needs of the displaced, assist those with special needs, counsel those in shock and treat those who are ill.
Read more about Sister Maria Hanna and her order in Grace, from the Summer 2015 edition of ONE.
12 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York greets parishioners at the end of an 11 April Mass in a displaced-persons camp in Ainkawa, near Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Tom Gallagher from the National Catholic Reporter is part of the team that accompanied Cardinal Timothy Dolan and CNEWA on the pastoral visit to Iraq this week. He had a chance to interview the cardinal and get some initial impressions from his trip:
NCR: In addition to prayer, what practical assistance can dioceses, parishes, Catholic organizations and individuals do to assist Christians persecuted and suffering in Iraq and the Middle East?
Dolan: One of the reasons we come here is to get the word out and let people know what’s happening. First of all, I know you didn’t intend it this way, Tom, but we can never diminish the value of prayer. And that has to be first and foremost. If I’ve ever seen that vindicated, it’s in the vivid faith of the people here. I mean prayer, worship, liturgy, faith means the world to them. And as one lady told us yesterday, “Where else are we going to go, but to our faith?” We can never diminish prayer. I know you didn’t intend it that way.
What can we do? I think we need to get practical. Let’s start supporting vigorously organizations like the Catholic Near East Welfare Association...
...Number two: Let’s advocate. Do you remember when [President] Ronald Reagan for the first time met with [Soviet Union President] Mikhail Gorbachev? He told the American people that he had a list in his pocket of the names of people who were in prison for their religious beliefs in the Soviet Union. He intended to ask Mikhail Gorbachev about each of them. And it worked.
We hold in high regard the advocacy of our Jewish neighbors, especially in New York. They are first to tell us, people like Bishop Murphy and me, “What’s taking you so long? Why are you afraid to advocate with the government on behalf of your people?” We need to do that.
I’ve been moved with the fact that I haven’t detected any anger against the United States among these wonderful people [the internally displaced Christian Iraqis]. In fact, I detect a love for America, almost a trust that America could do something for them. And we can’t let them down. We’ve got to do it. I’m not just talking about humanitarian aid. I’m talking about the plea from them [displaced Iraqi Christians] that we heard over and over again: “We just want to go home. We just want to go home.” So let’s advocate.
Read the entire interview.
To support CNEWA’s work in Iraq, visit this link.
12 April 2016
Displaced Iraqi families are receiving support in a variety of ways from CNEWA.
(photo: Kevin Sullivan)
Today during our pastoral visit with Cardinal Dolan, chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), our mission brought us within a few miles of the Turkish border and a few miles from the devastated city of Mosul.
Our mission today and every day here in Kurdistan, Iraq is to show solidarity with those suffering from the ravages of ISIS persecution of Christians, Muslims and the Kurdish religious community called Yazidis. No group seems to have been spared.
We visited an inspiring CNEWA medical clinic with state-of-the-art medicines and equipment that treat those displaced and now settled in the city of Duhok. Once again, many of the staff are also displaced individuals. The clinic serves Yazidis, Muslims and Christians with a staff whose spirit and dedication are palpable. Hundreds are helped each day in a range of specialities.
We then visited a local parish and celebrated Sunday Mass with a vibrant congregation composed of hundreds of families displaced in the past two years. The Patriarch’s Vicar celebrated the Liturgy in an Eastern rite and Cardinal Dolan preached. For me, one of the most moving parts of the Mass was hearing the congregation pray the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic — very likely a modern version of the language in which Jesus actually taught the prayer to his disciples. Meanwhile, the young adult choir rivaled any choir I’ve heard for their sound and exceeded most for their prayerfulness.
Read the rest and see more pictures from the visit here.
12 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York blesses a child in the Mar Narsai Clinic in Dahuk, Iraq, on 10 April. Cardinal Dolan is making a pastoral visit to Iraq this week in his role as Chair of CNEWA. To follow his journey, visit this link. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
12 April 2016
In Ethiopia’s Afar region, girls wait to fill containers at the local water pump. The UN says the humanitarian emergency in Ethiopia has worsened along with the drought. Read more on the crisis here. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
UN: Food emergency spreads as Ethiopian drought worsens (Bloomberg) The number of Ethiopian districts identified as suffering a humanitarian emergency increased 18 percent to 219 from December to March as the impact of drought worsened, the United Nations said...
Concern over safety of Syrian refugees (The Guardian) Setting up refugee “safe zones” on the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syria border and refusing to allow those fleeing the conflict to seek international protection could be a violation of international law and put vulnerable people at risk, human rights groups and aid workers have warned...
Alexandria court bans demolition of churches in Egypt (Albawaba.com) The Administrative Court of Alexandria has blocked the demolition of a church belonging to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, in the process issuing a ruling that prohibits the demolition of any church in Egypt. The move has been welcomed by members of the Coptic Christian community, who claim that Egyptian churches have been subject to “violations” for many years...
The fading of Gaza’s architectural heritage (AFP) A surprise awaits beyond a black door adorned with a silver lotus flower at the end of a tangle of alleyways in Gaza’s chaotic Old City. Through it and behind imposing stone walls sits a small, Levantine-style palace, some 430 years old and recently painstakingly restored. It is among the rare vestiges of Gaza City’s architectural heritage, battered by war, time, population pressure and simple indifference...