7 August 2017
In this image from last summer, Dominican Sister St. Elene kisses a 4-year-old headed to a church-run preschool in a camp for displaced Christians in Erbil. The sisters and some families have recently begun to return to Christian towns that have been liberated. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
Editor’s note: Our partners in Iraq, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, sent the following letter to their friends around the world on Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It offers an update on recent developments in Iraq.
Dear brothers, sisters and friends,
It has been three years since we were displaced and you have been accompanying us through your prayers. During these years, we cried, screamed, wondered, questioned God and our faith and also laughed and found moments of hope, love and gratefulness to our Lord, the church and all individuals who supported us in so many different ways. On 6 August 2014, we entered a tunnel that we did not know when we would get out of it. In fact, some days we thought we would never see the light. Three years ago, we left our homes at night to the unknown. We started a journey of displacement, exile and questioning. But, to speak the truth, despite everything, we always dreamed of going back and finding our houses safe and sound, just as we left them. We strongly wished that we would return and kindle our candles for prayers, harvest our grapes, and read our books. We hoped even when we knew that it was our neighbors who betrayed us and did us harm even before ISIS did.
That was the case until the fall of 2016, when Iraqi forces started the military operations to liberate the Plain of Nineveh. God showered us with His graces as our towns were liberated one after the other; ISIS was defeated and the Plain of Nineveh seems to have been liberated.
When we first visited our Christian towns, we were so much stunned by the damage we saw. It was painful to see all that overwhelming destruction. We immediately realized that it was not the military forces or smart weapons that caused all that damage, but hate. Hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply wounded. Only God knows how much love we need to heal these deep wounds.
Walking sluggishly in our Christian towns, we wandered remembering the word of God to prophet Ezekiel, “to endure the days of turmoil. ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” and we found ourselves answering him “‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’” (Ezekiel 37:3) Inspired by the stories and experiences of Biblical characters, we believe that God is able to raise us again in a new way.
Today we see the marvelous work of God. There are some signs of hope. The rebuilding process, although slow, has started and some families have returned to their homes. In Batnaia, a town that was 90 percent destroyed, a process of cleaning has started. To Telskuf and Qaraqosh, Christian towns, some families have returned and there are families returning every week. There are over 600 families today in Telskuf and 450 in Qaraqush. Telskuf was much less destroyed than Qaraqosh. Although in Qaraqosh the amount of destruction is estimated to be 30 percent, rebuilding is not easy and the NGOs that have offered to help with rebuilding are not enough compared to the destruction. There are 7,000 homes in Qaraqosh and 2,400 of them are completely burned and another 4,400 are partly burned and destroyed. There are 116 houses completely destroyed. The hope is to repair as many houses as possible before the beginning of the school year in September but, of course, there is a problem with the funding. So far, only the church and some NGOs are doing the rebuilding.
Our sisters are back to Telskuf and we hope to find a place by the beginning of the year and will start a kindergarten. Soon also we will return to Qaraqosh. Since our convent in Qaraqosh is partially destroyed, we repaired a family home for us to live in until we move back to our convent. Also, the orphanage was totally burned but we found a place for the sisters and girls to move to in Qaraqosh.
As you probably already have heard, Mosul has been liberated, but the amount of destruction is overwhelming in every field. It will take years to be fixed, but there is nothing impossible with God. Of course, it is not easy to decide whether to go back to Mosul or not. Some people still try to understand what the will of God is — if ISIS is defeated that does not mean that the Plain of Nineveh is entirely cleansed from that mentality. However, we as community decided to return with our people; and pray and hope all people will have the courage to go back to their hometowns and be able to start from the beginning again. God is with us and will not leave us.
We thank you for all the support you have shown us. Please pray for us as we start this new phase of our lives. Know of our gratitude and prayers for you.
Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena Erbil-Iraq
‘God Wants Me Here’: Christians Keep Hope Alive in Iraq
Grace: Meet the Sisters Bringing Hope to Displaced Iraqis
Remembrance: Iraq, Two Years After the Exodus
7 August 2017
Lara Yussif Zara made history last week, becoming the first Christian woman elected mayor in Iraq. She is pictured here with local leaders, including Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. Read more about this historic election at this link. (photo: Twitter/iraqchristians)
7 August 2017
The synod of bishops of the Syro-Malankara Church has erected the Eparchy of Parassala, India, and with the assent of Pope Francis, has elected as the first bishop of the eparchy Bishop Thomas Eusebius Naickamparampil, who is currently serving Syro-Malankara Catholics in the U.S. and Canada. (photo: CNS/Mary Iapalucci, Long Island Catholic)
Syro-Malankara bishop from U.S. will head new eparchy in India (CNS) The synod of bishops of the Syro-Malankara Church has erected the Eparchy of Parassala, India, and with the assent of Pope Francis, has elected as the first bishop of the eparchy Bishop Thomas Eusebius Naickamparampil, who is currently serving Syro-Malankara Catholics in the U.S. and Canada...
For first time, Christian woman elected mayor of Iraqi town (Catholic Herald) A Catholic woman has been elected as the new mayor of Alqosh, a small town on the Nineveh Plain in Iraq. Lara Yussif Zara was the unanimous choice of the municipal council last Thursday, defeating another candidate. The first woman to be mayor of Alqosh, she replaces another Chaldean Christian, Abdul Micha, who was dismissed after charges of corruption...
How long can Gaza survive with no water? (Al Monitor) The water crisis caused by ongoing power outages of more than 20 hours a day has pushed Gaza Strip residents to dig unlicensed wells, disregarding the ensuing serious threats to the already scarce aquifer water stock...
India’s ‘Black Day’ for Dalit Christians (Vatican Radio) Dalit Christians and Muslims of India will once again observe ‘Black Day’ on 10 August this year to highlight the discrimination that low-caste Christians and Muslims have been facing for 67 years. India’s Catholic bishops want to remind the people that the country bears a constitution-based discrimination against Dalit Christians, i.e. Dalits who embrace Christianity...
Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox celebrate start of Virgin Mary fast (Xinhuanet.com) The Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church celebrated on Monday the start of the fast of the Virgin Mary that will end on 22 August, MENA news agency reported. This fast is 15 days long and precedes the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Dormition of the Theotokos). The celebration will be held at the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Drunka, Assuit...
4 August 2017
An Israeli policeman throws a stun grenade in Jerusalem’s Old City on 27 July. Weeks of violence have raised tensions in the Old City. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
With tensions still high in the Old City following weeks of violence, the Rev. Firas Aridah completed his work at the Latin Patriarchate early so he could leave Jerusalem for his West Bank parish before any possible violence began.
“There were many [Israeli] police and soldiers, closing many roads,” Father Aridah told Catholic News Service in a phone interview once he was back in Jifna’s St. Joseph Parish 28 July.
Friday afternoon prayer in Muslim tradition is considered especially significant and is required of all Muslim men. Often during volatile periods, prayers at the contested Al Aqsa Mosque compound have been followed by demonstrations. Sometimes the tensions spread to other sections of Jerusalem, or even to the West Bank.
For Father Aridah and other parish priests in the West Bank, the challenge is to emphasize the Christian tradition of nonviolence while supporting their young parishioners’ desire to oppose the Israeli occupation.
Father Aridah said he counsels young people not even to throw stones at the young Israeli soldiers who sometimes come near their village on patrols or in search of men wanted by the army.
“The problem is with the [Israeli] government, not with the soldiers,” he said. “Violence is not acceptable from either side. With this conflict, Israel is losing its image as a democratic state. I tell the young men that we are not with this violence. If we do not accept for Israel to behave this way, then how can we accept it from our side? Wherever God is represented in our life, we should have no violence.”
If word that someone might be considering taking part in a violent demonstration reaches him, the priest makes a beeline to that home for a conversation. The way to best serve their society, he advises them, is to get an education, to bring a new vision to Palestinian life.
“I don’t want to see blood in my parish,” Father Aridah said. “If we want to see [real] results, I tell [the young people] to be educated. I [tell them] to serve your people well, do well in the university, then go get a job in society and tell the world [about our situation], but do nothing with violence. If we want to resist, we resist with education.”
As he prepared to leave for a new parish in northern Israel, Father Aktham Hijazin of the Annunciation Parish in Beit Jala spent his last Sunday with his parish saying his good-byes. He said the majority of Palestinians, including his parishioners, are proponents of nonviolent opposition to the Israeli occupation. His parishioners did not take part in the clashes in neighboring Bethlehem, he said.
Following the tenants of their Catholic faith, he said, “They are not interested to take part in any violent act.”
In Ramallah, West Bank, Father Ibrahim Shomali noted that though he did not take part, members of his parish as well as clergy from the Melkite and Greek Orthodox churches did participate in peaceful demonstrations in Ramallah, away from the flashpoints with Israeli soldiers.
He said he has made it clear to his parishioners that, even while under Israeli occupation, violent confrontation is not acceptable. Even if Israel settlers attack Palestinian farmers and villagers, violence is not justified, he added.
As Christians, he said, people must respect all holy places and respect the holiness of Al Aqsa for Muslims.
“We resist with our prayers and with our Bible and with respect of the human person,” Father Shomali said. “If you can love your enemy, you can have more power over them and get stronger to ask for your rights.”
The Al Aqsa mosque compound has been the focal point of Palestinian-Israel confrontation for decades. To Muslims it is Haram al Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary where, according to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. To Jews it is holy as the Temple Mount, where, according to Jewish tradition, the two biblical temples stood. In the Gospels, this is where Jesus lashed out against the money-changers when he came to Jerusalem on Passover.
On 14 July outside one of the compound gates, two Israeli policemen were murdered by three men from an Israeli Arab town. The men had smuggled guns into the compound; Israeli police shot and killed them. Israel responded by erecting metal detectors and other security measures outside the compound, sparking protests — some violent — by Muslims.
A week later, a Palestinian snuck into the Israeli settlement of Halamish and killed three members of an Israeli family during their Shabbat dinner. An off-duty soldier shot and injured the attacker.
Israel eventually removed the metal detectors at the Al Aqsa compound and replaced cameras with “smart cameras” that have face recognition capabilities and can detect weapons.
“The place is holy for the three religions, Muslims, Christians and Jews, so we should [all] be able to raise our praise to God,” said a Catholic priest, who asked not to be named. “This may be possible when a peace agreement is reached.”
4 August 2017
Tags: Palestine Israel Jerusalem Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The video above shows the challenges families are facing as they return to what is left of Mosul, Iraq. (video: SkyNews/YouTube)
Families return to booby-trapped homes in Mosul (SkyNews) The city of Mosul spreads out along the banks of the Tigris River. It is a formidable, if scenic, obstacle and five bridges were built to overcome it. After months of vicious warfare however, there is only one way for residents to cross. The Iraqi generals call it “Victory Bridge,” but this single-lane, floating structure looks a little less grand…
How climate change could affect the Nile (The Economist) To the untrained eye, the satellite photos of northwest Ethiopia on 10 July may have seemed benign. They showed a relatively small pool of water next to an enormous building site on the Blue Nile, the main tributary of the Nile. But the project under construction is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is more than halfway complete. And the water is why it is so controversial…
Jordan: 10,000 babies born as refugees (Doctors Without Borders) A maternity hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Jordan’s Irbid governorate has witnessed the births of 10,000 babies — most of them Syrian — in just four years. These babies are part of a generation of Syrian children who have never seen their homeland and may face challenges of identity and integration in the future…
Armenia’s population continues to decline (Azernews) The population of Armenia continues decreasing in number, thus further worsening the demographic crisis in the country, which is caused by social and economic problems that the Armenian government fails to solve…
Orthodox monasteries prepare for pilgrimages (OCA.org) The word “pilgrimage” means “a journey of spiritual significance.” And every year, the month of August proves to be significant for three monastic communities of the Orthodox Church in America observing their annual pilgrimages in conjunction with their patronal feast days…
3 August 2017
Tags: Iraq Egypt Ethiopia Armenia United States
This pagoda in Shaanxi, China, dates to the seventh century. Scholars believe it was originally part of a monastery for the Church of the East — offering evidence of Christianity's deep roots in Asia. (photo: J. Coster/Wikipedia)
While all the ancient churches traditionally trace their roots back to one of the Apostles — or one of the 72 disciples who are mentioned without names in Luke’s Gospel — it is often difficult to verify these traditions in way which would be acceptable to modern historians.
The New Testament offers little help. It has Peter traveling to Antioch, although there is no mention in the Bible that Peter went to Rome. We also know from Acts 8:4-8 that Philip, one of the Twelve Apostles, travelled and preached in Samaria, which was not far from Jerusalem. There is more evidence in the Bible about Paul desiring to go to Rome and ultimately going there as a prisoner. Paul is also known to have founded several churches. However, although he insists that he is an “apostle” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:9 and elsewhere), Paul was not a member of the original Twelve Apostles.
While traditions about the apostolic origins of some churches may be hard to verify, they do have deep roots. Early on, traditions arose according to which of the Twelve evangelized a particular area — Thomas in India, Andrew in Byzantium, and so on.
Nearly 200 years later, we find — as in India and parts of Armenia — that church institutions developed. The traditions were beginning to flourish. Shrines and memorials recording the presence of one of the Twelve, even many decades later, also indicate a longer tradition. So, when churches trace their roots back to apostolic times, there is very often an historical core to those traditions.
But before long, several forces — mostly political, theological, linguistic and cultural — led to isolation between the churches of the East and those of the Latin and Greek-speaking West.
The Church of the East, sometimes inaccurately called the Nestorian Church, was a church separated from the Western churches in many ways. First, it existed politically in the Persian Empire, which was almost in a constant state of war with Byzantium, the political center of Western Christianity. Secondly, its theology found the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon unacceptable. This actually was to its advantage because “orthodox” Christianity was — sometimes correctly — seen by the Persians as the faith of the Byzantine enemies. Lastly, members of the Church of the East spoke Syriac and different dialects of Aramaic, in contrast to the Greek and Latin of the churches in the West.
But it was, in many ways, ahead of its time. It might surprise people to learn that the Church of the East developed schools of theology in Edessa and Nisibis (both in modern Turkey) some 500 years before the opening of the first great European universities. Also, for the first five centuries of the church, most Christians lived east of the Mediterranean; by the time of the Muslim conquests in the mid-seventh century, Christians formed a slight majority of the population of the Persian Empire.
One reason for its growth is that the Church of the East was renowned for its missionary activities. By the eighth century it had metropolitan sees (archdioceses) in several places in China and across Central Asia. The Church of the East brought Christianity to China before it arrived in Denmark and the Slavic countries of Europe and almost 1,000 years before St. Francis Xavier arrived in the region.
Although the Church of the East remains widely unknown in the West, for centuries it was one of the most vital forces for theology and missionary activity in the Christian world.
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Introduction
3 August 2017
Tags: Christianity Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Church of the East
Armenian octogenarian Marjik lives with her son in a converted shipping container in Artashat, Armenia. Read more about the challenges facing Armenia’s poor in ‘This Is the Only Light’ in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
3 August 2017
Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Caritas
A Syrian girl holds a woman’s hand as she walks down a street in the central Syrian rebel-held town of Talbiseh, north of Homs on 3 August 2017. (photo: Mahmoud Taha/AFP/Getty Images)
Homs cease-fire deal announced in Syria (BBC) A cease-fire between Syrian forces and rebels north of Homs has been agreed and will come into effect on Thursday, Russia’s defence ministry says. It would be the third such “de-escalation zone” put in place since July after talks between powers backing and opposing the Syrian government…
Maronite bishops issue appeal for repatriation of Syrian refugees (Fides) In a statement released at the end of their meeting on Wednesday, 2 August, Maronite bishops urge Lebanese civilian institutions to adopt a “global plan” to arrange for the return of Syrian refugees who found shelter in Lebanon…
Indian cardinal: There are no forced conversions (AsiaNews.it) The government of Jharkhand (in the northeast of the country) last night approved a law prohibiting conversions brought about by force or coercion. The government spokesman explained that “anyone who violates this law may be sentenced to three years in prison and 50,000 rupees fine, or both.” Speaking to AsiaNews, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi and of Tribal Ethnicity, states: “This law is not to prohibit conversions, but it is against forced conversions. Forced conversions do not exist. We are free people with a free will and a free conscience and intelligence. No one can force another to convert…”
Why Germany’s new Muslims go to mosque less often (PulitzerCenter.org) Refugees I’ve spoken to complain that preexisting mosques’ members are overbearing and that the teachings there are irrelevant to their concerns: integration, trauma, and finding footing in a new society. They say older Muslims in Germany focus too much on identity politics and self-victimization, perhaps because they’ve felt like alienated minorities for decades. Many newcomers haven’t abandoned their culture or their faith, but they don’t want to hear this talk when they’re busy trying to fit in…
Russian Orthodox protest planned movie about Tsar Nicholas (The Telegraph) Hundreds of Orthodox activists held a standing in prayer protest in Moscow on Tuesday against a film about the last Russia Tsar Nicholas II having an affair, RBC reported…
2 August 2017
Tags: Syria India Lebanon Russia
CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar was honored yesterday by his alma mater, Saint Meinrad College in Indiana. (photo: courtesy Saint Meinrad College)
We are delighted to share this news, from Saint Meinrad College in Indiana:
Rev. Msgr. John Kozar, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, PA, was honored on 1 August with the Distinguished Alumnus Award, at the annual Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion. He graduated from Saint Meinrad College in 1967.
The award, given by the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association, was begun in 1990 to honor alumni who exemplify the Gospel values and have provided exemplary service in their lives or professions. The association’s board of directors reviews nominations for the award annually and makes the recommendations.
Msgr. Kozar is president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. On behalf of the Holy Father, Msgr. Kozar oversees the Catholic Church’s aid to Christians in the Near East and Middle East — about 16 countries.
He attended Saint Meinrad High School and College, graduating in 1967 and continuing his seminary studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, MD. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1971.
Then-Father Kozar spent the early years of his priesthood as an associate pastor at various parishes in the Pittsburgh Diocese. In 1978, he was named the development coordinator for the diocese’s mission office, making yearly pastoral visits to the diocese’s mission in Chimbote, Peru.
He also worked from 1987 to 2001 as pilgrimage director for the diocese, from 1995 to 1997 as vicar for clergy, from 1995 to 2001 as diocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, and from 1997 to 2001 as director of the Diocesan Jubilee Office — while simultaneously serving as pastor of several parishes.
Then in 2001, he was named national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies. Responsibilities for the national offices of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of Saint Peter Apostle, the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious, and the Holy Childhood Association were added later that year.
Since 2011, Msgr. Kozar has been leading Catholic Near East Welfare Association, where he oversees the organization’s mission to support the Eastern Catholic churches, provide humanitarian assistance, promote Christian unity and interreligious understanding and collaboration, educate people about the churches of the East, and offer pastoral support to seminaries and religious orders.
He becomes the 26th Saint Meinrad alumnus to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Congratulations, Msgr. Kozar!
2 August 2017
Shipla Joy helps with homework at the children’s home administered by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Catholic education is having a powerful impact on young lives in India. (photo: Don Duncan)
In the June 2017 edition of ONE, journalist Don Duncan writes about the ways Catholic schools are changing lives in India. He adds some additional reflections below.
Time and again throughout this reporting trip, I’ve been reminded of the importance of education.
Kerala has the highest literacy rate of all the Indian states, at over 90 percent of the adult population. Many factors have contributed to this achievement, including the government school system and NGOs. However the contribution made by the church and its many educational establishments is seen as the indispensible factor in the creation of this highly literate population. All over the state, you see people reading books at bus stops or perusing the day’s newspaper at teahouses.
But this literacy statistic can be deceptive. Education remains a constant, perpetual battlefield. The fight never stops because every new generation that comes along needs to be educated; in order to garner people’s commitment to education, its benefits need to be immediately clear, not only to every student but also to his or her parents too.
Education is a very tough sell in the rural, mostly agricultural, areas of inner Kerala. People living by subsistence farming need their children to help them work the fields to assure the family’s food security and livelihood. It’s difficult to persuade people living such a hand-to-mouth existence to make education a priority. For many of them, education does not have the immediate pay-off that having their children work the fields does. In this sense, for people living day-to-day on the edge of poverty, the benefits and worth of allowing their children to attain a good education is a near total abstraction.
It reminds me a little of my frustrations with democracy and party politics in the four-year electoral cycle. Politicians wishing to be reelected focus almost exclusively on projects and initiatives that can come to fruition in the four years before they stand to be reelected. Anything that takes longer has less or no political capital for them and so, in this kind of political system, broader, deeper and important reforms often get sidelined. Some of these projects, much like the process of educating a child, require a much longer cycle of commitment. The fruits of such a commitment, and the human capital it produces, are significant.
In rural Kerala, children’s homes run by the church are offering the possibility of a full education to children who would otherwise have left school at age 10, if not earlier, and worked their parents’ fields. It is in the cases of children like these that one can see the utter transformation that education can bring.
Children who leave their homes young and are taken in by the religious sisters for the duration of their education often return years later to their villages with skilled professions; they come back as teachers, bankers, doctors, etc. These children-turned-educated adults are the living products of what education can do and they are now serving, in their own respective communities, as extremely compelling arguments for the value of education.
I met three such success stories from various church-run children’s homes across Kerala. But a childhood spent under the care of sisters is not all Deepu Sasidharan, Devika Narayanan, and Shilpa Joy have in common. These young adults are not only shining examples of the positive effect of education; their intimate familiarity with poverty, family dysfunction and child vulnerability, when put through the prism of education, has left them all with a keen sense of social justice and a burning mission to make it part of their respective professional practices.
While the ability of education to improve one’s financial and social standing may be the most apparent and compelling result of education for those who are living in poverty, education of course comes with many other benefits. It can help women empower themselves more and take better care of their children. Education can help men take better care of their wives and children. Education establishes a clear scientific underpinning to one’s sense of health and well-being.
As the number of educated children returning to their villages grows, it is hoped that through leading by example, these numbers will produce a gradual “snowball effect” whereby people, inspired by the example, send their own children to school. If this happens, Kerala’s rural communities are in for some major positive change — not only in terms of poverty reduction but also in terms of gender rights, children’s rights, agricultural practice, money management, local governance, healthcare and, really, every other aspect of life.
Read more about The Secret of Their Success in ONE.