Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
17 June 2019
Greg Kandra

Surrounded by buildings braced to prevent them from falling, Pope Francis celebrates Mass on 16 June 2019, in the square outside the cathedral in Camerino, Italy. The cathedral is still closed to the public almost three years after it suffered heavy damage from an earthquake. After Mass, the pope voiced concern over tensions in the Middle East. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)

Pope calls attention to Middle East after Sunday Mass (Vatican News) Before reciting the Angelus after Mass, Pope Francis voiced his concern over “increasing tensions in the Persian Gulf.” ”I call on everyone”, he said, “to use the instruments of diplomacy to resolve the complex problems of the conflicts in the Middle East. I also renew to the international community my heartfelt appeal for every possible effort to be made to promote dialogue and peace…”

Tensions continue to rise in Gulf (Vatican News) Tensions continued to rise in the region, with Saudi Arabia joining the United States in pointing the finger of blame at Iran for the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran has described accusations as unfounded. Both ships were struck at dawn last Thursday by what U.S. military officials believe were mines. On Sunday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said his country would not hesitate to tackle any threats…

Indian poverty linked to religion and caste ( A new report by Oxfam, a confederation of 20 developmental organizations, points to a strong correlation between poverty and social identity. The report released this month, titled “Mind the Gap: The State of Employment in India 2019,” stresses that India’s poor are most likely to be Dalits, other so-called lower castes, tribal people and Muslims. A central finding is that the poor are still discriminated against on the basis of their religion or caste…

Interreligious group meets with pope (Vatican News) The leaders of six religions in Hong Kong are in Rome this week to mark the 40th anniversary of an organization dedicated to improving inter religious ties…

Russian Orthodox Church backs down in church dispute (Radio Free Europe) The Russian Orthodox Church says it has rejected “the right” to build a cathedral at a disputed site in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. In a statement released on 16 June, Metropolitan Kirill of Yekaterinburg and Verkhoturye said that in an “atmosphere of total lies and deceit” building the church on the site would still be potential cause for discord. Metropolitan Kirill said he does not want to “give the devil that opportunity...”

Tags: India Middle East Russian Orthodox

14 June 2019
Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Claudio Di Segni, a tenor and director of the choir at Rome's main synagogue, performs with the choir on 13 June 2019, during a concert at the synagogue marking the 25th anniversary of formal diplomatic ties between Israel and the Holy See. (photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)

Plaintive pleas and rousing, rhythmic recognitions of God’s goodness filled the air at Rome’s main synagogue as Israeli and Vatican officials celebrated 25 years of formal diplomatic relations.

“A concert of sacred Jewish music in a highly symbolic place like the major synagogue of Rome highlights our special bond that is founded in our common root: the Bible,” Oren David, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, told Catholic News Service.

“Songs from the Psalms show that we have a common heritage, which is reflected in the biblical values that we share, and we want to bring attention to the special and unique bond between us,” said David, who hosted the concert on 13 June.

Nathan Lam, the cantor of Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, was one of four cantors to perform at the concert. He said the singers, who are ordained for service and can preside at weddings and funerals, purposefully chose songs with texts common to Jews and Christians for the celebration.

Jews and Christians will interpret those texts differently, he said, “but the fact that we share them is a very important commonality.”

“I hope this leads to more and more dialogue, to more and more celebrations of relationships that are productive and good,” Lam said.

Celebrating 25 years of formal Vatican-Israeli diplomatic relations is not only about the relationship of two states. The ties were built on decades of Catholic-Jewish dialogue, which first focused on healing a relationship wounded by anti-Jewish church teaching and then moved on to common religious and moral teachings.

Celebrating what has been accomplished does not mean ignoring the sticky issues that remain on a diplomatic, political and religious level: for example, diplomats on both sides continue to try to negotiate an agreement governing church property ownership and taxation issues; the Vatican continues to call for international guarantees of Jerusalem’s status as a city sacred to Jews, Christian and Muslims; and Jewish religious leaders continue to press Catholic theologians involved in dialogue to discuss the religious significance of the land of Israel.

The Israeli ambassador and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, mentioned the three issues in their remarks before the concert. But they both also insisted there was much more to celebrate than to worry about.

“In our relations, political and religious issues are intertwined, this is why they are so special,” the ambassador told CNS.

For Catholics, the “special” relationship includes recognizing that Jesus was a Jew, the apostles were Jews and that Christianity not only recognized the Hebrew Scriptures -- the Old Testament -- as part of God’s revelation, but Catholics adopted and adapted Jewish liturgy, including the chanting and singing of the Psalms.

“Our liturgy stems from the liturgy of the Jewish people,” said the Rev. Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. “For example, reading texts, interpreting texts, giving sermons on texts -- that already can be found in Judaism, in Jewish liturgy and practice.”

“Jews and Christians are praying with the same texts,” he said, “but with a different interpretation” because Christians would read those texts in the light of their faith in Jesus.

Lam, the “chazzan” or cantor, prayed that those differing understandings would not overshadow the basic shared faith in one God, the creator of all, and -- to a lesser degree -- in the power of music to carry prayer and to touch hearts.

Like Christian sacred music, Jewish sacred music includes many styles influenced by the cultures the Jews were living in when the music was written. The cantor and choir of the Rome synagogue, who also performed 13 June, had a unique sound and style reflecting what the program described as the Jewish “Roman rite.”

The songs are sacred not because of their style, Lam said, but because the texts are the word of God, and the music upholds, reflects and emphasizes its content.

For Jews and for Christians, the Psalms have a special connection to liturgical music and not just because

they are written in a poetic form that makes it natural to chant or sing them.

Lam, who has been the cantor at Stephen Wise Temple for 43 years, said the Psalms seem to be growing in importance for both Jews and Christians “because the Psalms are a great source of comfort, knowledge, joy and wisdom.”

The central piece of the anniversary concert fittingly was Psalm 122 with its prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, peace in the world and, finally a personal, “I pray for your good.”

You can watch a related video from CNS below:

Tags: Vatican Jewish-Catholic relations

14 June 2019
Greg Kandra

The United States is insisting that Thursday's attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman was carried out by Iran. (video: CBS News/YouTube)

Trump insists Iran is behind tanker attack (The Washington Post) President Trump rejected Iran’s denials Friday that it attacked two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, insisting in a television interview that “Iran did do it” and pointing to a video released by the U.S. Central Command purporting to show Iranian vessels retrieving an unexploded mine from one of the damaged ships. Iran called the U.S. allegations against it “alarming…”

‘Russians are getting sick of church’ (Foreign Policy) A recent opinion poll recorded that 79 percent of Russians think of themselves as Orthodox Christians. But the church does not command obedience. The Yekaterinburg protests were much angrier, the views of the protesters much more passionately held, than the other big recent social protest in Russia’s regions against a planned landfill site in the northern city of Arkhangelsk…

Ration challenge: thousands of Americans plan to live on same diet as Syrian refugees (Newsweek) Starting this Sunday, more than 14,000 people across the country will get a small taste of what it’s like to live as a refugee, with thousands planning to take part in the “Ration Challenge”—a global fundraising effort that asks participants to live on the same rations provided to Syrian refugees in Jordan for the duration of World Refugee Week…

Dome of the Rock missing from Temple Mount drawing (Haaretz) The Jerusalem municipality removed the Dome of the Rock from a drawing of the Temple Mount displayed at a an event attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon on Thursday. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, the gates of the Temple Mount and the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer are prominently placed in the image, however the dome is conspicuously absent. Despite the dome being one of the most recognizable elements of the Jerusalem skyline, the designers depicted only the building’s base…

Tags: Refugees Jerusalem Russia Iran

13 June 2019
Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service

Filipino children demonstrate on 12 June 2019, near Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's house in Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

A group of Philippine mothers and children facing imminent deportation from Israel are finding some solace in their faith, with weekly prayer meetings and counseling from their parish priest and nuns.

Most of the mothers arrived legally in Israel to work as caretakers for the elderly, but remained in the country even after their work visas had expired and have lived in Israel for up to 20 or more years. They have created a life for themselves in Israel, which they believe is better than they could have in the Philippines.

Sister Regina Cobrador of Our Lady of Valor Parish for migrant workers and asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv said several of the mothers who have deportation orders belong to the parish, and they have been coming every Wednesday to the church, where a special group prayer is held for them.

“My heart goes out to them, but sometimes I don’t know what to counsel them. They speak of their fears and concerns for their children who know only the Israeli culture, and the fear about their difficult economic situation,” Sister Cobrador said. “But I also tell them that, from the legal laws of Israel, their children can’t get citizenship, even if they were born here. Israel is very small, so if they would take all the migrant workers who are living here, it would be very difficult.”

Most of the Filipinas are Catholic, and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has created a Vicariate for Migrants and Asylum Seekers to see to their pastoral needs.

The Rev. Rafic Nahara said the vicariate is trying to be available to those with deportation orders to counsel them about their concerns. However, they are in the country illegally, so there is little more the vicariate can do but help them prepare to return if they are deported, he said.

“(Israel) does have the right to do this. The mothers stayed illegally because they needed work. It is a very complex situation. Of course, people are asking for help, but it will hardly change the Israeli decision,” he said.

He noted that, previously, the Israeli government had reached an agreement allowing children under the age of 5 who were born in Israel to remain, with the understanding that no other such agreement would be forthcoming.

On 11 June, some 50 mothers and children demonstrated in front of the Israeli prime minister’s house, calling on him to halt the order and allow their children to stay, at least until they finish high school.

The children at the demonstration held up signs declaring their love for Israel, calling the country their home and asking not to be deported. They also sang Hebrew songs, including the Israeli national anthem.

“We wanted a better future for our children,” said Margie, a Catholic and one of 20 mothers facing deportation in July, with her 9-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. She asked that her last name not be used.

“The Philippines is a good country, but it is safer here,” she said. “The good schools are very expensive there, and there are drugs and crime and the children end up in the streets. In the Philippines, it is hard.”

Migrant workers from less-developed economies such as the Philippines and Thailand come to Israel to work and earn money to send home. Most are in Israel on five-year work visas, but a good number have risked deportation by staying even after their visas have expired, because the salaries they earn allow them to send their children in the Philippines to study at universities and to build a home there, but also because of the higher quality of life in Israel.

Margie, who is separated from her husband, said even though she is trained as a teacher, she would have to work a whole month in the Philippines to earn the same amount of money as she does in one day cleaning houses in Israel.

According to media reports, there are 1,500 Filipino children in the Israeli educational system, and the deportation orders were coordinated so they would be able to complete the school year.

The Israel Immigration Authority says it is enforcing Israeli immigration law against residents who are living in the country illegally.

Margie, who worships at Our Lady of Valor Parish, said she came to Israel 14 years ago to work as a caregiver for the elderly. She said she was like a family member to the Israeli families for whom she worked.

Her visa was cut short when she became pregnant with her daughter; she was told she would need to take her children to the Philippines if she wanted to remain in Israel to work.

She has been getting strength from prayer and speaking with the parish priest, she said, and going to confession.

“When I pray to God, I ask him to give us more strength,” she said. “We love Israel. My kids’ lives are here.”

Neither of her children speak Tagalog; they have never been to the Philippines and do not know the culture there, she said.

“I like my friends and my school here,” her son, Anton, said in Hebrew. He said he wants to go into the Israeli army when he turns 18 and be a soldier like his friends.

“I am an Israeli in every way. I don’t know what it will be like in the Philippines. I don’t want to leave,” he said.

Margie said she has tried to prepare her children for the possibility of leaving the only home they have ever known by talking about the places where she grew up and showing them pictures of the country.

Ellen, who came to Israel as a caretaker 14 years ago, is preparing to leave in July with her 10-year-old son, Umit. His father, who was from Turkey, died when Umit was 5.

Ellen overstayed her visa by nine years and has been working as a nanny and housecleaner to send back money for her four other children in the Philippines.

“It is very hard to find work there, and you make very little money, and I am not young,” said Ellen, who is Catholic. She has already started to pack, she said.

“I pray to God for his help because no one else can help me. I have to be strong for my son. I don’t know what I will do there, but we have no choice.”

Umit, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of several incidents when the immigration police entered their apartment, said he has slowly come to terms with the fact that he and his mother will be leaving once school ends.

“It is good for me here. I have lots of friends. I feel Israeli, but what can I do? Life will be harder there,” he said.

Tags: Israel Migrants

13 June 2019
Greg Kandra

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, holds the Spanish version of Pope Francis' message for the 17 November World Day of the Poor, during its release at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Ignoring the poor falsifies the Gospel, pope says in message (CNS) Christians must not underestimate the importance of embracing and assisting the poor, oppressed and outcast, Pope Francis said. Not only did Jesus entrust his disciples with the task of continuing his ministry on earth by giving hope to the poor, but “the credibility of our proclamation and the witness of Christians depends on it,” the pope said in a message for the World Day of the Poor…

U.S. Says ‘highly likely’ Iran behind attack on tankers in Gulf of Oman (CBS News) Two tankers were attacked Thursday near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, leaving one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both. It was the second time in a month that tankers have been seriously damaged in the region, and again U.S. officials were quick to point the finger of blame at Iran…

Five years later, calls for accountability over fall of Mosul (Al-Monitor) With much of it still in ruins amid struggles to restore its basic infrastructure, Mosul is marking the fifth anniversary of its dramatic fall to the Islamic State. On 11 June, Ayad Allawi, the head of Wataniya Alliance, called for a full investigation of the June 2014 fall of Mosul...

Indian police raid Jesuit’s residence, charge him with sedition for defending tribal peoples ( Police in India have for the second time in less than a year raided an octogenarian Jesuit charged over allegedly seditious links to Maoist rebels. A police team, including officers from Maharashtra state in western India, raided the residence of 83-year-old Rev. Stanislaus Lourdusamy on the outskirts of Ranchi, capital of eastern Jharkhand state…

Tags: India Iraq Pope Francis Iran

12 June 2019
Greg Kandra

Pilgrims from northern Kerala visit the St. Thomas Pontifical Shrine in Azhikode. Read more about this historically important corner of India in Kerala’s Spice Coast in the May 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Tags: India Thomas Christians

12 June 2019
Greg Kandra

Syria says it shot down a number of Israeli missiles that were launched toward an area overlooking the Golan Heights. (video: i24News/YouTube)

Syria says it thwarted Israeli missile attack (Al Jazeera) Syrian Air Defenses thwarted an Israeli attack on Tal al-Hara in southern Syria and shot down a number of them, Syrian state news agency SANA said early on Wednesday. Located in Deraa Governorate, Tal al-Hara is considered a strategic hill overlooking the occupied Golan Heights…

Religion blamed for India’s poor grade on gender equality ( A global study of gender equality has placed India nearly at the bottom, with some research and rights groups accusing religion of playing a major role in Indians discriminating against women. The Sustainable Development Goals Gender Index ranked India 95th out of 129 countries. The index measures how well nations are progressing toward achieving gender equality by 2030, which is part of the 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations. Research done by Reshma Elizabeth Thomas of the University of Madras this year claims that religion is the main cause of depriving women of equality. For most Indians, the ideal concept of women comes from Hindu mythology as 80 percent of Indians are Hindus. …

Syrian refugees in Lebanon forced to destroy homes (AFP) Abu Mohamed lost his house in Syria early in the civil war. Six years on, it’s happening again -- only this time in Lebanon and he has to destroy it himself. His family and thousands of others crammed in this remote mountainous region of northeastern Lebanon have been ordered to demolish hard shelters, which the authorities consider illegal construction…

Report: dam in Ethiopia has wiped out indigenous livelihoods ( A dam in southern Ethiopia built to supply electricity to cities and control the flow of water for irrigating industrial agriculture has led to the displacement and loss of livelihoods of indigenous groups, the Oakland Institute has found…

Tags: Syria India Israel Hinduism

11 June 2019
Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, center, poses for a photo with Mark Morozowich, dean of theology and religious studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, left; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America; Bishop Basil H. Losten, former head of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; and Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Ukrainian Catholics in North America continue to struggle to develop ways to maintain their Ukrainian religious and ethnic identity amid a larger majority culture that beckons with the siren song of assimilation.

The answer may lie in young people, according to Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the newly enthroned archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, during a 6 June conference on the future of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in North America that he convoked at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

“It is time to give voice to our young people, to hear them,” Metropolitan Borys said in introductory remarks during the conference, which was part of an eight-day celebration of his 4 June enthronement in Philadelphia.

His words were echoed by Susan Timoney, an associate professor in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University.

“Young people are fully invested members of our community today,” not at some point in the future, Timoney said.

One takeaway from last October’s Synod of Bishops on “young people, faith and vocational discernment” at the Vatican, was that “our parishes are rightly placed (with) exactly what our young people are searching for,” although “we don’t always use the same language,” she said, adding that “if Jesus were preaching and teaching today, we might think of him as that millennial hipster with some crazy ideas.”

Youth coming together to celebrate also is helpful, according to Timoney, who cited national, regional and local World Youth Day celebrations concurrent with the international World Youth Day as an example.

“Young people need help with discernment,” Timoney said. “They need help to make sense of who they are, and who God wants them to be.”

Assimilation into the larger culture is not limited to Ukrainians, said Mar Munoz-Visoso, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

“Among Hispanics, kids are speaking English,” Munoz-Visoso said. “They are subject to the same temptations and cultural influence as all of the other kids.” What is needed is “to reach out in a way that is meaningful to them,” she said.

But discipleship is not to be restricted to one’s own group, she added. “The church in Ukraine is missionary in its own identify,” she said. Evangelization should not be limited to just “the ones who speak like me, or look like me, or think like me, but all nations,” as Jesus decreed, she added.

The Rev. Peter Galadza, a Ukrainian Catholic priest and theologian, said the Ukrainian liturgical rites hold an appeal to some non-Ukrainians who have joined the Ukrainian church, which like all Eastern Catholic churches, are in communion with Rome. Still there are some Ukrainian Catholics who harbor resentment of non-Ukrainians worshipping with them.

“We will never allow anyone in our church to look at you and say, ‘What are you doing here? You’re not Ukrainian,’“ said the priest, who is director and professor of liturgy at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.

There are people who have “an inferiority complex about being Ukrainian,” he added, but “we see parishes who refused to even have a homily in English in 40-50 years, and they are suffering today.”

Unity is key, Father Galadza said, but without unity in the pursuit of truth, “your sense of mission is going to be skewed.”

A recurring theme of the “From Heart to Heart” conference struck Robin Darling Young, an associate professor of spirituality at Catholic University professor, as profound, noting it was the motto of Blessed John Henry Newman, the 19th-century Oxford don and Anglican who joined the Catholic Church, became a cardinal, and whose canonization is expected later this year.

Blessed Newman probably spotted “cor” -- Latin for “heart” -- in St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” Young said, not to mention several biblical passages that refer to the heart.

“Our hearts are not isolates,” Young said. “Our hearts are affected by others, and of course by the heart of the Lord.”

Tags: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

11 June 2019
Greg Kandra

Deadly attacks in northern Syria have displaced thousands of civilians and sparked fears that millions of residents could be at risk. (video: TRT World/YouTube.)

Russian jets bomb Idlib (Al Jazeera) At least 25 people have been killed in aerial bombardment carried out by Russian jet fighters in Idlib region. The rebel stronghold of northwestern Syria has come under deadly regime bombardment in recent weeks, sparking fears for its roughly three million residents…

Body of Indian bishop exhumed after suspicions raised surrounding his death ( Police in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have exhumed the body of a Catholic bishop after suspicions were raised that his death in a car accident six months ago could have been the result of foul play. Bishop Thomas Thennatt of Gwalior’s corpse was exhumed on 10 June after a court ordered police to investigate the prelate’s death on 14 December last year...

Violence with Gaza causing families to leave southern Israel (The Jerusalem Post) At least 10 families living in Gaza border communities have decided to leave the area following the repeated rounds of violence between Israel and terror groups in the Hamas-run coastal enclave, Channel 13 reported on Friday. According to the report, the families arrived in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council last year and have told the council that they will be leaving this summer due to the security situation…

Syria says no to restoring ties with Hamas (The Jerusalem Post) Syria is not interested in restoring their relations with Hamas despite the Palestinian movement’s readiness to bury the hatchet with Damascus. According to recent reports, Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, have been mediating between Syria and Hamas in a bid to persuade the two sides to restore their relations…

Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Indian Bishops

10 June 2019
Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service

Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Nizar Semaan is seen during his 7 June 2019, episcopal ordination at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, Iraq, his birthplace.
(photo: CNS/Syriac Catholic Patriarchate)

Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Nizar Semaan begins his new mission in Iraq with hope “that Christianity will flourish again” in his homeland.

Bishop Semaan chose the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, Iraq, his birthplace, as the site of his episcopal ordination on 7 June.

Still scarred from the Islamic State group and not yet fully restored, the church, Bishop Semaan said, is “a symbol of what happened to our cities and villages in 2014 until the liberation (in 2017) from ISIS.”

It’s also the church where the new bishop was ordained a priest in 1991.

Located in the Ninevah Plain, Qaraqosh was the largest Christian city in Iraq. Its 50,000 residents -- all of them Christian -- were expelled by Islamic State forces in a single night during the summer of 2014. They were among 120,000 Christians uprooted from Mosul and the Ninevah Plain that summer.

Of his new mission as a bishop, Bishop Semaan told Catholic News Service his ministry is “all about challenges: political challenges, economical challenges, spiritual challenges, social challenges.”

Yet he is optimistic.

“I’m sure with the help and prayers of many people who are interested in the Christians of Iraq, we will carry our mission and we will go ahead for a brighter future,” he said.

In his homily during the ordination Mass, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan acknowledged the challenges facing the church in northern Iraq. Pointing to the “terrible calamity” that affected “the most precious diocese in our Syriac Catholic Church,” he said his people’s resilience is “an example of the heroic testimony and the steadfastness in the face of the evil forces that wanted to kill hope in your believing souls.”

The patriarch noted how parishioners “carried the cross,” following the example of Jesus. “Your hope has won the admiration of the faithful around the world, in the East and West.”

Bishop Semaan, who spent 14 years as a priest in London, said he plans to focus on building: not just in the physical sense with new construction, but especially restoring relationships among Iraqis and to work on healing “the psychological and spiritual injury of our people.”

“It wasn’t easy for our people, who lived here their entire life and in one night, suddenly, immediately they lost everything, and found themselves without a piece of bread to eat, sleeping in the street, to be forced to live as refugees in the north, Ankawa, Kurdistan, Irbil,” he said.

Such horrific trauma, he explained, left deep wounds in people’s hearts and minds.

Stressing the pastoral role of priests and bishops, he said that establishing peace, political stability and security in Iraq is not in the hands of the church.

“For this, we need the help of the international community,” to put pressure on the Iraqi government so that people can live in dignity, with democracy and respect for human rights, he said.

Without security, Bishop Semaan noted, it is difficult for Christians to be expected to stay in Iraq and restart their lives. Likewise, he said, the lack of security hinders economic investment.

He urged Christians in the West to encourage their government “to look at the situation of Christians in Iraq and try to find a political solution.”

“We need their support and prayers, as well as economic help,” Bishop Semaan said.

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.”

More reconstruction is needed, Bishop Semaan told CNS, and for that the Christian community in the region must depend on the continued help from international charities and church groups.

Although there are no exact figures, Bishop Semaan said about 20,000 people have returned to Qaraqosh, where he will be based initially.

Bishop Semaan said his return to Iraq is grounded in the hope “that Christianity will flourish again in Iraq, and every Christian will play his positive role in rebuilding the new Iraq.”

“Everyone around the world should care about what is happening to the Christians of Iraq,” Bishop Semaan said, adding that without help, “in 20 years we will vanish from here.”

Bishop Semaan noted that Pope Francis “is always talking about the importance of Christianity in the Middle East, the importance of staying here, giving testimony to our faith. We need help to continue our mission in the Middle East.”

In 2003, about 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq. Their presence dates to apostolic times. Now that number has dwindled to about 250,000, according to international observers.

For his motto as bishop, Bishop Semaan chose Galatians 5:22: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness. “Most important is peace and patience,” he said.

He said he hopes to bring that inspiration to the people of Iraq.

“If you look at the faces of our people and what they endured, you can see the sadness in their eyes,” he said. “They need a happy person.”

Tags: Iraq Syriac Catholic Church

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