10 December 2018
The CNEWA team visited St. Lawrence Martyr Parish in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Last weekend, our little CNEWA team hit the road once again, this time heading to Hanover, Maryland in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. There, we spent time at St. Lawrence Martyr Parish, where I had the privilege of preaching at all the Masses and sharing the story of CNEWA’s work in the Middle East, particularly among refugees and those who have faced religious persecution.
The parish is staffed by the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, or Trinitarians — a group of priests and brothers founded by St. John de Matha. They trace their roots all the way back to the 12th century. The order has a special charism to the imprisoned — especially those imprisoned for their faith — and the parish in Maryland has a lay ministry devoted to this, known as SIT:
In 1999, the Trinitarian Order established an organization within their order called SIT (Solidaridad Internacional Trinitaria or Trinitarian International Solidarity) that focuses on our fellow Christians who suffer persecution because of their commitment to Christ and His Church. In October 2015, we started SIT St. Lawrence at the parish level to try and bring awareness and assistance to the persecuted Christians around the world.
It was this group, under the leadership of parishioner Matt Behum, that welcomed us to the parish and gave us the opportunity to share our story at the Masses.
Matt Behum, center, welcomed Chris Kennedy (l) and Deacon Greg Kandra (r) to the parish.
Deacon Greg preached at all the Masses over the weekend and shared stories about CNEWA's work among persecuted Christians. (photo: CNEWA)
The people in the pews were eager to learn more and my colleague, development associate Chris Kennedy, was only too happy to share information, literature and copies of our award-winning magazine, ONE.
CNEWA's Chris Kennedy greeted parishioners after the Masses. (photo: CNEWA)
It was a wonderful weekend. We’re grateful to the faith community at St. Lawrence for their warn welcome. We want to thank in particular the Trinitarians— the Rev. Binoy Akkalayil, O.SS.T. and the pastor, the Rev. Victor Scocco, O.SS.T.—for their generous hospitality and fellowship.
Father Binoy, Deacon Greg, Chris Kennedy and Father Victor. (photo: CNEWA)
During this season of Advent, it was especially meaningful to speak about bringing the light of Christ into the world through our mission and our ministry, and to remind people of the ongoing suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters around the world. We continue to lift them up in prayer.
We’re always eager to spread the word about CNEWA’s work and let others know how they can make a difference. If you would like us to visit your parish or group, please drop Chris Kennedy a line: email@example.com.
St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Hanover, Maryland. (photo: CNEWA)
7 December 2018
Tags: Syria Iraq ISIS Persecution
CNEWA will be visiting St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Hanover, Md. this weekend.
CNEWA is heading to scenic Maryland this weekend (my home state!) where I’ll be preaching at all the Masses about CNEWA’s work. We'll be at St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Hanover, Maryland in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I’ll be traveling with my colleague Christopher Kennedy from our development department.
Can’t make it Sunday? We’ll be giving a special presentation about CNEWA after the 5 p.m. Mass on Saturday.
It’s a great privilege to be able to share our story — particularly during this beautiful time of year, Advent, when our hearts are anticipating the joy of Christmas and are uplifted by the hope of Christ’s coming.
I had a chance to talk about that and more with Christopher Gunty, editor of Baltimore’s Catholic Review, on the archdiocese’s radio program Catholic Baltimore. You can give a listen to that right here.
We love visiting churches or groups around the country to speak about our mission. Can we pay you a visit? Just drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meantime, see you in Maryland!
7 November 2018
This week, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, received a letter from a longtime friend and partner in the Middle East, Samir Nassar, the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, Syria.
The note featured this image of a praying St. John Paul II:
Inside was this message:
Archbishop Nassar also included a letter with this poignant plea:
IS SYRIA A FORGOTTEN LAND?
It is often said that the Syrian war is the worst and most cruel seen by the world since the Second World War.
The fact that seemingly much of the violence has died down has made us wonder if Syria is remembered at all by most of the world…what a chaotic scene:
600,000 dead with only some buried in dignity and many others in collective graves. All this has meant that many families live in perpetual sorrow and emotional instability.
200,000 have disappeared, including two bishops and four priests; this has made life a nightmare for those who grieve for their loved ones — parents, friends and the churches who have no news of them.
13,000,000 refugees — a very heavy burden as a consequence of this world war game on the Syrian territory…whole populations who suffer in silence and despair. Bitterness and a loss of meaning to life…a broken people, scattered and searching for a future.
95,000 hands cut off, feet amputated or paralyzed in a country which is ill-prepared to handle these sorts of problems alone, and the subsequent psychological and health consequences.
2,500,000 dwellings demolished or destroyed.
Local currency is valueless and inflation has risen alarmingly; the exodus of the young has marked the remaining hopes for future growth.
Faced with these scenes of desolation in the church in Syria, I cannot fall into the role of a mere spectator. The church is a strong witness of the Spirit and the Light which it brings. She is a sign of the Presence and a witness in the domain of health care, education, pastoral work with the young, family support, accompanying fragile families and supporting in every way the less fortunate. All of this is done in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
If the world has forgotten Syria, the Lord is watching over her and will not let the boat flounder!
He added a personal handwritten note, too:
Thank you, dear Msgr. Kozar, for the mission of CNEWA in Syria. Our problems are too heavy. Please pray for us. We prepare for Christmas with a heavy Calvary. God bless you for all that you did and do.
Please do not let Syria become a "forgotten land." Their needs are great. Remember them in your prayers.
7 November 2018
U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, arrive for a press conference at the Vatican on 7 November. The Knights are preparing for a major meeting in Rome.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The 30,000 members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem fund about 80 percent of the annual budget of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, ensuring that Catholic parishes and seminaries, schools and hospitals in Israel, Palestine and Jordan continue to function, said U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien.
The cardinal, grand master of the Vatican-based order, said the knights and dames of the order come from 40 countries and pledge their prayers, their financial support and personal visits to the Holy Land to support the local Catholic communities there and to encourage ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation.
Every five years, leaders of the order from around the world gather for their general assembly, called a “consulta.” The meeting was scheduled for 13-16 November in Rome and was expected to include an audience with Pope Francis.
Meeting with reporters on 7 November, Cardinal O’Brien said the knights and dames “do not become involved in local government or political questions” in the Holy Land but offer support to the local Catholic Church there in cooperation with the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
Cardinal O’Brien said the order provides about $15 million each year in grants to Catholic projects in the Holy Land. Most are run by the Latin patriarchate, but the Maronite and Melkite Catholic churches also receive assistance.
The knights and dames of the Holy Sepulchre have given priority to education and formation programs, said Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, governor general of the order. By supporting 35 nursery schools and 41 elementary and high schools in Israel and Palestine, he said, the order’s members hope “to improve their quality and, through them, to make a fundamental contribution to the pacification of the region.”
About 57 percent of the 19,000 students in the schools are Christian, and most of the others are Muslim, he said. But all of them learn “our values of dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect,” which should help “overcome that violent confrontation that for years has martyred peaceful coexistence among people of different ethnic and religious groups.”
Cardinal O’Brien said each member of the equestrian order pledges to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least once in his or her lifetime, but most go regularly. The pilgrimage is built around prayer and visits to the holy sites, but always includes visits to schools, clinics, parishes and other projects funded by the knights and dames.
The funds are disbursed as grants, the cardinal said, and members of the grant-making committee visit the Holy Land three times a year to monitor the projects.
The order’s headquarters near the Vatican occupies a small part of the 15th-century Palazzo della Rovere; most of the order’s building was rented out to a company that ran it as the Hotel Columbus. The order’s contract with the hotel company expired years ago and, after a court-ordered eviction was issued in 2016, the hotel closed in May.
Visconti said the Italian government is insisting that restoration work be carried out on the hotel’s 15th- and 16th-century frescoes, and plumbing and other work is underway. But, he said, the knights and dames hope to have a new company renting the building and running it as a hotel soon, because the rental income covers the order’s administrative costs, allowing all donations to go directly to the Holy Land.
16 October 2018
Tags: Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre
Paul VI meets with leaders of the CNEWA/Pontifical Mission family at the Vatican, including Cardinal Francis Spellman, chair of CNEWA, and Archbishop Joseph Ryan, then-president of CNEWA.
(photo: CNEWA archives)
On Sunday, 14 October, Pope Francis canonized seven saints — including Pope Paul VI, who was the bishop of Rome from 1963 until his death in 1978. The man who is now St. Paul VI was long a champion of our work around the world — beginning in the 1940’s.
During World War II, then-Msgr. Giovanni Batttista Montini, who served Pope Pius XII, organized and directed the Holy See’s relief efforts for refugees. At a November 1948 meeting in the Vatican — during which the idea of a papal mission specifically for displaced persons in Palestine was discussed — it was Msgr. Montini who penciled in the name of the head of CNEWA, then Msgr. Thomas J. McMahon, to lead such an effort. Thus was born the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, which Pius XII entrusted to CNEWA as its operating agency in the Middle East.
Years later, as Pope Paul VI showed an even deeper commitment to the work of CNEWA. To begin with, he announced plans to open his pontificate with a historic trip to the Holy Land:
In December 1963, during the council [Vatican II], Paul VI announced his intention to begin his pontificate with a “pilgrimage of prayer and penance” to the Holy Land:
“We will bring to the Holy Sepulchre and to the Grotto of the Nativity the desires of individuals, of families, of nations; above all, the aspirations, the anxieties, the sufferings of the sick, the poor, the disinherited, the afflicted, of refugees, of those who suffer, those who weep, those who hunger and thirst for justice.”
He made the trip in January 1964:
Fired with the Gospel message of hope, the pope met with heads of state and religious leaders in the Holy Land. These visits culminated with his embrace in Jerusalem of Orthodoxy’s spiritual leader, Patriarch Athenagoras I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Before departing the Holy Land, Pope Paul VI assured [CNEWA’s Secretary and President of the Pontifical Mission] Msgr. Joseph Ryan, who accompanied the pontiff, of the Holy See’s commitment to the refugees and encouraged Ryan to further the Pontifical Mission’s efforts with Palestinians.
Paul VI’s pilgrimage resulted in social rehabilitation and development projects that, with support from the Pontifical Mission, changed the lives of many: Bethlehem University; Ephpheta Institute for hearing-impaired children; Tantur Ecumenical Institute; and Notre Dame of Jerusalem Pilgrimage Center. These diverse initiatives testified to the pope’s belief in the church as an instrument of reconciliation and hope.
At the Mount of Olives, Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras I lift the mutual excommunications dividing the Catholic and Orthodox churches, in January 1964.
(photo: CNEWA archives)
The following year, Pope Paul VI issued the groundbreaking document, Nostra Aetate, a declaration on the relation of the church to non-Christian religions, which noted not only Christianity’s historic connection to Jews, but also its respect for Muslims:
The church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all-powerful, the creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
In the years that followed, he never lost his concern with and affection for the peoples of the Middle East:
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Pontifical Mission, Pope Paul VI wrote to [CNEWA’s] Msgr. John G. Nolan … : ”The work of the Mission for Palestine has been one of the clearest signs of the Holy See’s concern for the welfare of the Palestinians, who are particularly dear to us because they are people of the Holy Land, because they include followers of Christ, and because they have been and are still being so tragically tried. We express again our heartfelt sharing in their sufferings and our support for their legitimate aspirations.” (16 July 1974)
Also in 1974, the Holy Father noted in Nobis in Animo that the Holy Land “is also a country in which, besides the Shrines and Holy Places, a Church — a community of believers in Christ — lives and works. Were their presence to cease, the Shrines would be without the warmth of the living witness and the Christian Holy Places of Jerusalem and the Holy Land would become like museums.”
Cardinal Jacques Martin, a co-worker of then Msgr. Montini for many years in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, in speaking of Pope Paul VI, noted, “The thing that most struck those who were close to him was that he gave himself entirely to the service of the church, without second thoughts, without holding back any of his time or energy. At one a.m. the light was often still burning in his office. He was a man consumed by his work, a man who gave himself entirely.”
We remain deeply grateful for the love and passion he brought to his papacy — and which he shared so selflessly with the suffering peoples in the Holy Land, a place now so fraught with division, hardship and violence. So many of those we serve need his prayerful intercession now, more than ever.
Pope Paul VI prays at the River Jordan during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1964.
(photo: CNEWA archives)
With humble gratitude and boundless hope, we join our voices to so many others around the world this day to pray for his accompaniment, his prophetic vision, and his courage. May his spirit help us to help others, and may his prayers guide us on our way.
”St. Paul VI, pray for us!”
19 September 2018
Tags: CNEWA Pope CNEWA Pontifical Mission
CNEWA's external affairs officer, the Rev. Elias Mallon, S.A., speaks at Holy Family Parish in Lawton, OK, during a parish visit in 2015. (photo: Christopher Kennedy)
We were heartened to see this recent report in The Sooner Catholic about a parish in Oklahoma that has been supporting CNEWA’s work:
There has been a war in Syria since 2011, and half the country has been displaced, meaning families are no longer living in their hometowns, cities or villages. Thousands are victims of the war and are in dire need of help.
For the past three years, Holy Family in Lawton has made it their mission to help those war-stricken families by giving Lenten offerings to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
“Every Lent, we have a special Lenten Project. The past three years it has been Syrian refugees, the Dominican Sisters of Iraq, and refugees,” said the Rev. Phil Seeton, pastor of Holy Family.
“People are invited to drop an envelope into a basket that we have marked with CNEWA information. As they come up, they are bringing their gifts to the altar. I know from letters that the money has gone to medical clinics, and to some refugee camps. The refugees served in the camps are mainly members of the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic churches, the Assyrian Church of the East as well as Yzdidis and Muslims.”
Father Phil expressed the need to do more.
“These folks are brothers and sisters in the faith, and they are not getting much help from governments. It comes through the generosity of the different Christian churches in Europe and the United States. These people are modern day confessors to the faith. Maybe they have not been martyred, but there are thousands who have been martyred for Christ over there. They are confessing their faith with their lives.”
Luscia Hankins is the co-chairman of Holy Family’s Spiritual Life Committee, along with Mary Beth Mullins. The committee helps organize the Lenten fundraiser for CNEWA. In 2017, they raised $6,200.
“This year, we raised $10,200. It was for the displaced Syrians who were placed in camps. The donation was to build camps of their own. They are being persecuted for the religion we share. It is an obligation to our fellow Christians,” Hankins said.
Since 2013, they have given $38,000 to CNEWA.
We remain deeply grateful to Father Phil and the people of Holy Family for their generous and prayerful support, helping so many of our brothers and sisters in need. Thank you!
6 August 2018
Tags: Syria CNEWA
Displaced Iraqi Christians are struggling to rebuild, exactly four years after ISIS first swept through their country. This video, from last fall, shows some of what they are facing as they return home. (video: Raed Rafei/CNEWA)
Exactly four years ago — 6 August 2014 — ISIS began its assault on the Nineveh Plain, and thousands of Iraqi Christians began to run for their lives.
Al Jazeera takes note:
Displaced by the expansion of Islamic State (ISIS) — which rapidly overran vast territories in Iraq, eventually seizing one-third of the country in 2014—Christian families left their homes in the ancient Assyrian towns of Nineveh province to resettle in Erbil and the capital, Baghdad.
Samir Petrus, 50, who left Hamdaniya [also known as Qaraqosh], a district located on the outskirts of Mosul, where the majority of the Iraqi Christian community are Chaldo-Assyrians, says he will never return to Nineveh.
“There’s nothing for me to go back to. No jobs, no home, let alone safety and security,” says Petrus, who now lives at an IDP camp in Baghdad. “I’m here now with my girls and I have to look ahead.”
ISIS targeted minorities of the Nineveh plains when it stormed northern Iraq, taking over Mosul in 2014. Although other communities in Mosul hope to go home again, Christian and Yazidi minorities say they’ve endured enough persecution and refuse to return, even if ISIS has been defeated.
CNEWA has been on the ground and on the front lines of helping displaced Iraqi Christians since Day One — and we have been chronicling their story in our magazine, along with the story of the long road back to a life resembling normal. Last fall, in the pages of ONE magazine we described the Hard Choices many are facing:
A recent comprehensive survey carried out by church authorities indicates that of the 6,826 housing units in Qaraqosh, about a third are severely damaged or burned, with some two-thirds sustaining partial damage. Almost 100 homes are completely destroyed and beyond repair.
Despite some shy rebuilding efforts by churches and homeowners, the estimated $70 million needed for the overall reconstruction of Qaraqosh still looms large. According to Father Jahola, several organizations have pledged to help with large finances, but substantial aid has not materialized yet.
The condition of Qaraqosh is not very different from that of most Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, which typically report damage to 30 to 40 percent of structures — houses, schools, public institutions, churches, monasteries and hospitals alike.
But some towns, such as Batnaya, have been rendered completely uninhabitable, reporting 85 percent of buildings demolished under heavy aerial bombardment.
The total cost for the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plain, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars — if not billions — will require a significant mobilization of aid by foreign governments and international charities.
This past spring, the new superior general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Sister Clara Nancy, wrote to us a Letter from Iraq, describing how the people — and the sisters serving them — are surviving on a resolute mixture of fortitude and faith:
We want and need to be with our people. We want to return with them to serve them.
And so we visit families in their homes. We lead youth groups and offer activities and lectures to help them understand themselves and their faith, sharing Bible stories when possible and catechesis for children. We understand these activities are modest — and that they are unable to heal them as a whole — but our efforts may be a balm to sooth their pain.
Life is so hectic in our area; our challenges look overwhelming. Therefore, we encourage people to go beyond their difficulties, and place them in a different context. We try to help them look into things through the eyes of faith. It is easy for people to feel depressed and live as passive victims. So, our aim is to help them live their faith as people who trust God and his providence. We are not the only ones who have lived this reality: The Bible tells us about those who had very similar experiences and yet they knew how to overcome their situation with hearts full of faith in the Lord.
It is hard to know what the future holds for our community. Displacement and immigration left young women unable to form a clear vision about their future. So, fostering vocations has been difficult when life is so unsettled. However, there are a few girls who are considering joining with us in serving the Lord as sisters. We are thinking of organizing a program for them to prepare them and introduce them to religious life.
We sisters have our own struggles, of course. We have asked different speakers to help us cope with the situation, spiritually and psychologically. We are grateful to all those who have risked their lives and have come to show solidarity and offer their knowledge.
Deep down, we believe our main help is the Risen Lord around whom we gather in every Eucharist. This unites us with the Christ and enables us to endure. Sharing with one another our difficulties gives us the opportunity to reflect and support one another. We have lost much, but we still have each other. And that is of great help.
Read more of Sister Clara’s letter here.
This day, in particular, please keep all our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East in your prayers. Their struggle is far from over — and they need your help, now more than ever. CNEWA continues to accompany them, support them, encourage them and stand with them during this difficult time. We invite you to stand with us—and with them. If you’d like to do more for those trying to rebuild in Iraq, visit this page to learn how you can help.
3 July 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians ISIS Dominican Sisters
Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during a meeting in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on 26 May. The men will meet again this weekend in Bari, Italy. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis will be in Bari, Italy, this weekend to pray for peace in the Middle East — and the trip will have a strong ecumenical theme.
From Catholic News Agency:
Taking place on 7 July, the day of prayer and reflection will include leaders of Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, and will have an “authentically ecumenical breath,” Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari-Bitonto told Vatican News.
He said the day’s events will “combine the ecumenical vision of the Christian Churches and [give] particular attention to the Middle East, to invoke peace, but also to be close to our Christian brothers, who live in suffering.”
Pope Francis announced 25 April he would hold the day primarily for “prayer and reflection on the dramatic situation of the Middle East which afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith.”
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, has confirmed he will be in attendance, as will Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who leads the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Which other patriarchs will attend has not yet been confirmed.
During his Angelus address 1 July, Pope Francis said he and the other Christian leaders in Bari “will implore with one voice: ‘Peace be upon you,’” as it says in Psalm 122. “I ask everyone to accompany with prayer this pilgrimage of peace and unity,” he said.
Bari is often called the “porta d’Oriente” or the “Eastern Gate” because of its connection to both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox through the relics of St. Nicholas, venerated by members of both Churches.
Historically, many Eastern Churches have been present in the city, Archbishop Cacucci said, but an ecumenical culture was imprinted upon it most strongly after the Second Vatican Council, when the archbishop of the time opened the crypt of the Basilica of St. Nicholas to the Orthodox by creating a small chapel dedicated to them.
For more on St. Nicholas, read Bari’s Borrowed Wonder Worker from the July-August 1997 edition of our magazine, which notes:
[The popularity of St. Nicholas] rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
21 November 2017
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
The U.S. bishops have designated Sunday, 26 November, as a day of prayer for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Watch the video above for more details. (video: U.S.C.C.B./YouTube)
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated this Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, as a day of prayer for persecuted Christians, and the bishops have marked next week, 26 November to 2 December, as a time to raise awareness about the challenges our suffering brothers and sisters around the world are facing.
As the U.S.C.C.B. notes:
The Christian presence in the Holy Lands traces its roots to the earliest days of Christianity. These small, diverse communities have historically contributed to the vibrant social fabric of their societies in the fields of science, medicine, and philosophy. Their fraternity with the diversity of Churches and other religious groups helps to foster greater interreligious dialogue, unity, and peace in the Middle East.
In the midst of the turbulence in the Middle East, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expresses solidarity with Christians and all those who suffer from the conflict and persecution in the region. The Church stands at the service of all people in the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims.
CNEWA is proud to be a part of this initiative and to offer our resources to help educate the public about this urgent issue.
The U.S.C.C.B. website has a wealth of material—including prayer cards, logos, homily notes and intercessions— for parishes to use in the days ahead.
We encourage you to explore all that CNEWA has to offer as well, with some of the most comprehensive journalism and reporting on this issue to be found anywhere:
In Advent of 2014, Pope Francis sent a letter to Christians in the Middle East. As we near the season of Advent once again, and look with hope to the coming of Christ, his words today have even greater resonance:
Every day I follow the new reports of the enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East. I think in particular of the children, the young mothers, the elderly, the homeless and all refugees, the starving and those facing the prospect of a hard winter without an adequate shelter. This suffering cries out to God and it calls for our commitment to prayer and concrete efforts to help in any way possible. I want to express to all of you my personal closeness and solidarity, as well as that of the whole Church, and to offer you a word of consolation and hope.
Dear brothers and sisters who courageously bear witness to Jesus in the land blessed by the Lord, our consolation and our hope is Christ himself. I encourage you, then, to remain close to him, like branches on the vine, in the certainty that no tribulation, distress or persecution can separate us from him (cf. Rom 8:35). May the trials which you are presently enduring strengthen the faith and the fidelity of each and all of you!
Please join us in prayer this Sunday, to express what the bishops have called our “solidarity in suffering,” and pray for an end to persecution.
26 October 2016
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Christians Middle East U.S.C.C.B.
Displaced Iraqi Christians take part in celebrations on 18 October 2016 in Erbil, to mark the liberation of Qaraqosh, which had been Iraq’s largest Christian town before it was overrun by ISIS in August 2014. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
As Iraqi soldiers intensify their offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS, we are getting scattered reports from local clergy, describing scenes of great fear — but also tremendous hope.
The following is part of an email sent by Bishop Yousif Mirkius, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Suleimaniyah. He described what happened last Thursday night, 20 October, when jihadists from ISIS, trying to escape security forces, sought shelter in local residences in Kirkuk, including the Dominican sisters’ convent and houses rented by the bishop to house immigrant students. The students, he writes, are
from all faiths: Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and Mandaeans, numbering about 500 in all. As he explains, 71 students were in the area that night when ISIS burst in. They were under the responsibility of Mr. Imad Matti, who described what happened:
The young girls realized the jihadists were invading at 3 in the morning on Friday. These terrorists had climbed the walls of the houses and reached the garden shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The students took photos of them and noticed that they were not only armed but also equipped with explosive belts around their waists. The security forces were aware of the seriousness of the situation and these girls had to remain 24 hours without electricity — trembling, in total fear. At that moment, heavy fighting took place. The terrorists would not surrender. So a plan was adopted to make everything possible to save the 14 students in the first house. The security forces succeeded in saving them despite their continuous gunfire during the whole operation.
At 2 a.m., we proceeded to rescue the seven students in the second house. It was the riskiest operation, as four terrorists were inside the house eating and drinking while the students were hidden under their beds. These terrorists must have been blinded by the Lord, because at no time did they find them. I therefore took the risk to ask them to come out of their hiding place, to run toward the wall at the back of the house. Nine of the emergency forces demonstrated exceptional courage and bravery. They were more than ready to give their lives to save these girls. It was dark and despite intense firing, the seven students were rescued.
As for the third group of students, the rescue operation took place at 5 a.m. on Saturday thanks to the “Suat” forces from Suleimaniyah. There were 30 students in that house. I must admit that I admired their courage and determination as the girls remained calm and followed very precisely all the orders and instructions that were given to them during these operations.
After this intervention, the four terrorists blew themselves up in the students’ house.
The seven students had remained under their beds 18 hours without moving and without letting their presence be detected. They were transferred to Erbil, where they are recovering and reassuring their families.
We do hope they will continue their studies with even more motivation than ever, with the help of the Chaldean diocese who has committed to finance their studies despite all the difficulties and challenges we are facing.
Bishop Yousif concluded: “We thank God for this grace and miracles. We also pray for all the martyrs, the wounded and victims as well as for all those who suffered damage and losses.”
Also this week, we received this jubilant, poetic communication from Basilios Georges Casmoussa, patriarchal auxiliary and Syriac Catholic archbishop emeritus of Mosul. He described the great joy surrounding the liberation of Qaraqosh, a Christian stronghold in the Nineveh Plain that had been emptied of Christians after the invasion of ISIS in 2014:
So, Qaraqosh is liberated!
Cry of joy, peace and hope for its children and all its friends over the world!
Message of thanksgiving to God. …
Message of gratitude to the courageous fighters of the Iraqi army, who came from all regions of Iraq, Christians, Muslims, Arabs, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis … together.
Who, at the dawn of 22 of Oct 2016, penetrated, with their Iraqi flag, the deserted city. …
The image of this valiant soldier, child of Qaraqosh, moved by the emotion, when he put his foot on the ground of his silent city, after a so long an absence, how he sprinkled his head and face by its dust, as a sweet balsam. …
Or, this other, with his weapon on his shoulder, kissing the entrance door of his childhood church. …
Or, this group of officers and soldiers, standing in front of the central altar, broken by Daesh [ISIS], and praying to the Virgin Mary “Shlama ellakh Maryam” in his maternal language, the soureth, an Aramaic idiom coming from the time of Christ. …
Or this young priest ringing the bell of the church of Bartella, another Christian city liberated in the Plain of Nineveh, yesterday. …
These views shall remain forever in the collective memory.
My message is a message of gratitude, also, to Kurdistan, who welcomed us when we were displaced, and to all those who came to help us by different ways. …
My message is a message of gratitude to all our friends, those unknown men and women over the world, who supported us by their solidarity, since the beginning of our exodus until today, in many ways: humanitarian aid, schools’ construction, churches, houses, medical centers, repeated visits of personalities coming from Europe, America and Australia.
Friends, as unknown soldiers, you made us feel we are not forgotten, we are not alone, we are beloved and recognized.
You have defended our cause. …
You, already, are preparing new projects to support us in our efforts of reconstruction. Be accompanied by our gratefulness and prayers:
To start the chapter of the reconstruction — the reconstruction of living together, with harmony and solidarity between different Christian denominations, and Muslim neighbors, Kurds, Arabs, Shabaks, Yazidis, Kakais, Mandaeans. …
In mutual respect, the recognition of diversity and rights. …
Consider all of them as citizens with the same rank, same rights, same duties.
Tags: Iraq Iraqi