12 August 2019
In this file photo, Cardinal Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, celebrates a liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Lay people for the first time joined clergy during the first two days of the weeklong Chaldean Catholic synod in northern Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The Chaldean Catholic Church concluded a weeklong synod in Ainkawa, a Christian enclave in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, in which laity from the church’s various dioceses in the Middle East and the diaspora also participated for the first time.
The synod, held 4-10 August at the invitation of Cardinal Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, brought together church leaders and parishioners from Iraq, the United States, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Canada, Australia and Europe to discuss issues vital for the church’s future in Iraq and worldwide.
Cardinal Sako said it was important to engage the views of the laity and to “support the participation of people in the life of the church” at such a critical moment in the church’s history. “The lay faithful, men and women, are members and partners of our church because of their faith and their common priesthood,” he said.
He said it was essential to “take advantage of their (laity’s) charisma” in the service of the church during what he described as a time of great difficulty in Iraq and Syria for thousands of Iraqi Christians who were forced to abandon their ancestral communities, including in Mosul and the Ninevah Plain.
“It is a good opportunity for us to study the complicated situation of our Chaldean Church in Iraq and diaspora, including the struggle with displacement, killing and destruction as well as current fears and concerns about the future,” Cardinal Sako told attendees.
“In such difficult circumstances, our faith should lead us to plant hope, joy and peace in the hearts of those we serve; respect them and create a friendly relationship with them, otherwise, we won’t grow up, improve and be trusted, but rather lose our credibility. Therefore, we should walk in the path of ‘evangelical conversion’ with all its aspects,” Cardinal Sako said.
Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told Catholic News Service by phone that the participation of the laity during two days of the synod was “a good experience.”
“We hope it is a good start for other future involvement. The first steps are new and open the possibility to other perspectives for the future,” he said of the 16 laypersons who attended.
The contingent included four lay women. Among them was Sister Maryam Yalda Shabo, superior of the Chaldean Sisters, Daughters of Mary Immaculate Conception, representing the patriarchal orders in Iraq.
Archbishop Mirkis said discussions centered on “liturgy, prayers, and the translation of the languages used in the diaspora for liturgy.”
Bishops also will be appointed for important towns in the predominately Kurdish areas of northern Iraq that are experiencing growth, in part because of the displacement of Christians.
“We need a bishop for Zakho because the diocese there is growing. We will split the dioceses in the Kurdish region. Amadiya and Duhok will become a diocese, while Zakho will become another,” Archbishop Mirkis explained.
In January, Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa of Mosul, Iraq was the first prelate installed since Christians were expelled from the city by Islamic State forces in 2014.
“He is doing his utmost to help Christians, but we know that the situation is very difficult to encourage people to return because many things, including universities, (schools, hospitals, and various infrastructure) are waiting to return,” Archbishop Mirkis said.
In a final statement, synod participants pledged “continued support to the displaced to help them return, build their homes and provide a source for their livelihoods.”
Other recommendations included: the Chaldean Church taking up its key role as a mediator with other Christians and various segments of Iraq’s mosaic social fabric; establishing a Chaldean Unified Fund to support joint projects and aid emergencies; organizing a Chaldean youth conference in Spring 2020 to address faith, marriage, and vocation; ongoing training to detect abuse; and preparing for a Chaldean Laity Conference in 2022.
Maronite Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cipro, Cyprus, set the tone for the synod proceedings by leading a retreat during the assembly’s first two days.
As the conference opened, Cardinal Sako remarked on the challenges facing the Chaldean Catholic Church in a letter to Pope Francis.
“We can say that it has always been the ‘Church of the Martyrs.’ Even our Muslim brothers suffer for their life every day, and hope that in the shared pain, paths of hope for a better future can be opened,” he wrote.
He later told synod participants that “we pray also for our church, in particular, for the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq at this turning point in our history, for his presence and encouragement are what we need now.”
12 August 2019
Tags: Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church Iraqi
As the death toll climbs and more people in southern India are displaced, Pope Francis has sent condolences to the victims of the disaster. (video: Hindustan Times/YouTube)
Pope sends condolences to India flood victims (Vatican News) Pope Francis has expressed his condolence for the victims of the floods and mudslides in the southern Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat following days of torrential monsoon rains. At least 184 people have been killed and more than 400,000 displaced. ”Deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in the monsoons of recent days in Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and mindful of all those who have lost homes and livelihood, His Holiness Pope Francis sends his heartfelt condolences to the relatives of the deceased and injured,” Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, wrote in a telegram to local authorities on behalf of Pope Francis…
Syrian troops capture key village in Idlib (The Washington Post) Syrian government forces captured an important village in the northwestern province of Idlib on Sunday, drawing close to a major town in the last rebel stronghold in the country, state media and opposition activists said…
Israeli police clash with Muslims at Temple Mount (The Guardian) Israeli police have clashed with Muslim worshippers at a major Jerusalem holy site during prayers to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday. Palestinian medics said at least 14 people has been wounded, one seriously, in the skirmishes at the site, which Muslims refer to as the al-Aqsa mosque and Jews as the Temple Mount. Police said at least four officers had been wounded. Officers fired teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in the worst violence at the contested site in months. Witnesses said at least two people had been arrested…
India Catholics observe ‘Black Day’ (Vatican News) India’s Catholic Church observed ”Black Day” on Saturday, to protest against the discrimination that low-caste Christians and Muslims continue to face in the country. Indian bishops want to remind the people that the country bears constitution-based discrimination against Dalit Christians, i.e. Dalits who embrace Christianity…
Ukrainian president meets with Bartholomew in Constantinople (AsiaNews) Four months after his election as president of the Ukraine, Volodymir Zelensky met Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, in Constantinople, yesterday. The visit comes eight months after the Kiev-based Orthodox Church of Ukraine was granted autocephaly, which led the Moscow Patriarchate to unilaterally cut sacramental ties with Constantinople...
9 August 2019
Tags: Syria India Jerusalem Kerala
A mother holds her newborn in the maternity ward of the Tiramayr Narek Hospital in Armenia. Read about the life and times of families in the remote corners of northern Armenia in the March 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
9 August 2019
Unusually heavy rains continue to pound India, causing massive flooding and forcing thousands to be evacuated to relief camps. (video: Down To Earth/YouTube)
Heavy rains pummel Kerala; thousands evacuated to relief camps (India Today) As incessant rains continued to wreak havoc in Kerala leading to a flood-like situation, 14 people have died since yesterday and over 22,000 have been evacuated to 315 relief camps. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has sought the army’s help and additional 13 more units of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) for the relief and rescue operations…
How plastics are both a curse and a blessing for Gaza (National Geographic) Gaza’s plastic recyclers are at the forefront of work to stave off economic, humanitarian, and environmental collapse. In recent years a new culture and economy have risen up around recycling plastics: from collecting and cleaning to sorting and repurposing, people have created direly needed business opportunities…
Population control efforts gaining ground in India (Al Jazeera) Across northern and central India, a campaign advocating for a population control law is gaining momentum. The movement ostensibly seeks to raise awareness over the need to restrain India’s population of 1.34 billion, second only to China’s 1.39 billion. But its subtext reflects a core belief of right-wing Hindu organisations: that Muslims are trying to “overtake” Hindus…
In Ethiopia’s mountains, a glimpse at how ancient human lived (The New York Times) Scientists have discovered what is by far the oldest evidence of human occupation at extreme altitudes: a rock shelter strewn with bones, tools and hearths 11,000 feet above sea level. People lived at the site, in the mountains of Ethiopia, as long as 47,000 years ago…
8 August 2019
Tags: India Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala
In this image from 2017, a Dominican sister visits the Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah in Qaraqosh, Iraq, heavily damaged by ISIS. (photo: Raed Rafei)
On Saturday 10 August this year, Jews all over the world observe Tish’a b’Av, literally “the ninth of (the month) Av.” On this day, Jews remember the destruction of the Temple of Solomon by the Babylonians in 587 BC and the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.
Although it is a Jewish observance, it gives all of us something to think about. The destruction of the sacred places of enemies and conquered peoples is almost as old as humanity itself. Tragically, it is a practice that has not waned in the contemporary world — including parts of the world CNEWA serves.
The briefest of researches uncovers some sobering data. Attacks on sacred places are far more common than most believers realize. Some of these desecrations receive media coverage. The vast majority do not.
In recent times there have been several attacks that have shocked the world. On 18 July 1994, a synagogue in Buenos Aires was firebombed and 85 people were killed. On 2 March 2001, with the entire world watching, the Taliban destroyed the 1500-year-old old giant statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. — dynamiting and shelling the statues into oblivion. Most recently, on 24 July 2014, ISIS destroyed the Shrine of Yunus (Jonah) in Mosul, Iraq. Built on a still-existing 6th century BC palace, this had been originally a Christian shrine. When Christians were no long able to maintain it, it was taken over by Muslims, but was revered and visited by both Muslims and Christians. It was architecturally a strikingly beautiful building.
The Taliban destroyed statues of the Buddha of Bamiyan in 2001. The image above shows before it was destroyed (left) and after (right). (photo: Wikipedia Commons)
Across the centuries, the targets have included many different religions. Throughout the Middle East, there are the almost unrelenting attacks on Christian places of worship, with almost no country in the region being immune. And even before the rise of ISIS, Yazidis, Mandeans and even other Muslims (e.g., at the Shrine of Yunus) have seen their sacred places destroyed.
Significantly, the ancient world isn’t the only place where these horrors are unfolding. You need look no further than parts of the United States.
Although not nearly as old as the Buddhas of Bamiyan or the Shrine of Yunus, African American churches in the U.S.—sacred places—have been under almost constant attack, to the point that there is often little or no coverage of the atrocities. An article in The Huffington Post on 21 October 2015 recounts 100 attacks since 1950 against churches whose congregants were primarily black. A Google search uncovered a Wikipedia article that lists the churches and dates of the attacks. Since 2001, a dozen black churches have been attacked, three in 2019 alone.
The attacks on the temples in Jerusalem and almost all of the other sacred spaces mentioned here involved assaults on physical structures: temples, shrines, statues, etc. But it is important to remember that other cultures, especially indigenous cultures, have sacred spaces without buildings or permanent structures — some of them with histories going back thousands of years. It is the place that is sacred; frequently, there are no buildings on it.
Often in the news we hear about Native Americans or indigenous peoples elsewhere protesting what they see as the desecration of land by outside developers. This, too, is an attack on the sacred that deserves attention and action. International bodies like the United Nations are becoming aware of the problem of the destruction of sacred places and are trying to develop protocols and conventions to protect them.
Attention must be paid. These kinds of attacks affect us all. This Saturday, as Jews around the world observe and mourn the loss of the two temples in Jerusalem, we should pause and remember the loss of the sacred that is still going on around the world—not just in far-off and ancient places, but in our own country and neighborhoods.
8 August 2019
Tags: Persecution Iraqi
Houry Kulkutchyan, a refugee from Syria now living in Armenia, makes soap from scratch in her home. Read more about how Syrians are starting over in a place where Hope Takes Root in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
8 August 2019
Tags: Syria Refugees Armenia
The video above has the latest about widespread flooding that has hit Kerala this week, sparking red alerts across the region. (video: India Today/YouTube)
Heavy rains, landslides wreak havoc in Kerala (Business Today) Water levels in most of the rivers and dams across the state have risen flooding nearby areas. Major rivers like Manimala, Meenachal, Moovattupuzha, Chaliyar, Valapattanam, Iruvazjinjpuzha and Pamba are have risen. The Chief Minister’s office has asked district collectors to evacuate people from danger-prone areas. A holiday has also been declared for all educational institutions in most of the northern districts including Kannur, Wayand and Malappuram, authorities said…
UN: Over 100,000 detained or missing in Syria (Time) Reports suggest more than 100,000 people in Syria have been detained, abducted or gone missing during the eight-year conflict, with the government mainly responsible, the U.N. political chief said Wednesday. Rosemary DiCarlo urged all parties to heed the Security Council’s call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained and to provide information to families about their loved ones as required by international law…
Report: climate change threatens world’s food supply (The New York Times) The world’s land and water resources are being exploited at ”unprecedented rates,” a new United Nations report warns, which combined with climate change is putting dire pressure on the ability of humanity to feed itself. The report, prepared by more than 100 experts from 52 countries and released in summary form in Geneva on Thursday, found that the window to address the threat is closing rapidly. A half-billion people already live in places turning into desert, and soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming, according to the report…
What tourists might see if they were allowed to visit Gaza (NPR) I’m in search of a different Gaza than the Gaza of violence and misery you usually hear about. I’m retracing the route the tourists used to take. I walk through the old city market to the antique shop Saleem Elrayes has run for more than 30 years…
Church pays tribute to Indian politician who loved Christians (UCANews.com) Church leaders have expressed their condolences following the death of Sushma Swaraj, India’s former external affairs minister, recalling her role in securing freedom for two abducted Catholic priests. Swaraj, a prominent member of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), died on 6 August following a heart attack. She was 67. ”She brought a human touch to all decisions of the ministry. As foreign minister, she was our best ambassador and projected a great image of the country in international circles,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Indian bishops’ conference…
7 August 2019
Tags: Syria India Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala
Msgr. John Kozar visits a seminary of the Order of Discalced Carmelites at Cotton Hill, Trivandrum, in Kerala. In the current edition of ONE, Msgr. Kozar reflects on vocations — and the many forms they take, among both religious and lay people. Read more in the July 2019 edition of the magazine. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
7 August 2019
Tags: India Vocations (religious)
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, seen in this photograph from 2017, warned this week that Iraqi Christians face "extinction." (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
Archbishop warns Iraqi Christians facing ‘extinction’ (CNS) Iraqi Christians face “extinction” unless Islam recognizes the fundamental equality of all people and takes steps to overcome violent factions that seek to force religious minorities from the country, said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil…
Hundreds stuck in Mumbai due to flooding (Reuters) Hundreds of passengers were stuck in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, and nearby towns after two days of heavy rain flooded rivers and undermined railway tracks, forcing authorities to cancel or divert dozens of long-distance trains. Rivers in the western state of Maharashtra were flooded after authorities released water from dams made full after many parts on the west coast received more than 200 mm (8 inches) of rain…
Pentagon report says ISIS is ‘re-surging in Syria’ (CNN) ISIS is “re-surging” in Syria less than five months after President Donald Trump declared the terror group’s caliphate there had been 100% defeated, according to a new Pentagon inspector general’s report on the fight against ISIS. Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was re-surging in Syria,” the report warned…
Indian state toughens punishment for mob lynching (UCANews.com) Church officials in India’s Rajasthan state have welcomed a new law that allows harsher punishment for mob violence and lynching despite opposition from pro-Hindu political groups. The state legislature on Aug. 5 passed the Rajasthan Protection from Lynching Bill 2019 amid vociferous protests from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Catholic officials have welcomed the new legislation as a necessity to stem increasing incidents of mob lynching, mostly connected with protecting cows, a revered animal in Orthodox Hinduism…
6 August 2019
Tags: India Iraqi Christians ISIS
In this image from February, Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq, center, concelebrates the liturgy at St. Thomas Syriac Catholic Church in the old city of Mosul. Five years after the invasion of ISIS, many Iraqis are still struggling to recover and rebuild their homes and their churches. (photo: CNS/Khalid al-Mousily, Reuters)
Today, 6 August, marks the five-year anniversary of the assault of ISIS on the Nineveh Plain. Thousands of Iraqi Christians were displaced — many literally running for their lives.
Last fall, we published a letter from one woman, describing the challenges she and her family faced:
I have to admit that, spiritually, I have passed through some difficult times. I questioned God many times, wondering, “How is it possible that he has abandoned us?” But after all those moments of fear, I have finally surrendered my life and my fate to God.
My mother taught me how to live my faith, how to face crises and adapt to change. She taught me how to synchronize my hands and my mind to achieve my goals. Thanks to the image of my mother and her encouraging whispers that have accompanied and guided me in such difficult times, my hope in God has become so strong that now I live it in every single detail of my life. And now, again, I take this opportunity and this experience to pass it on to my children.
Following our return to our homes in a liberated Qaraqosh in September 2017, our joy was mixed with pain and bitterness. Our beloved home was gutted by fire and our fields were destroyed, but yet our joy was unbelievable; we were home! We were back in the home of our forefathers, our pride!
But the initial excitement subsided as the brutal reality hit us. At the beginning, Qaraqosh — once a city of 50,000 inhabitants — was like a ghost town, very few people returned to live amid the destruction. It was hard to walk around and see the ruins everywhere. The path of destruction included schools, churches, hospitals, factories and houses. But we thought it was necessary to return home, where we could work and support ourselves. Since our house is uninhabitable, we have rented an apartment. My husband and his brothers have returned to the fields to revive them for planting. As for me, I found a temporary job in the power company and in the evenings I provide tutoring for extra income to help my husband and my family to rebuild our home.
The situation is improving now, and life is returning, but slowly. The return of the churches, of our priests and sisters, and the opening of our schools is encouraging us to have some confidence and hope for a better future.
It is a future many fervently await and pray for. June’s installation of a Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop, Nizar Semaan, was seen as a significant step for the people of Iraq:
While touring Qaraqosh before his installation, the new bishop said he was struck by how, in two years, the community was able to rebuild again, citing as evidence numerous homes, shops and restaurants.
“It’s kind of like a miracle,” he said. “This is a sign of hope, really.”
Hope is often hard to come by in an Iraq where people still struggle to rebuild their homes and churches. But they are blessed with an abundant faith and deep love for their homeland — along with the support of many around the world who will not let them be forgotten.
Please remember the people of Iraq in your prayers as they continue their long journey back.
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians ISIS