6 May 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and chair of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), recently spent a week, 6-12 April 2016, in Iraqi Kurdistan on a pastoral visit to that region’s displaced Christian families. National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher was a part of this small delegation that included fellow CNEWA board member, Bishop William Murphy of the diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, head of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.
Check out the interview below. And be sure to check out other reports on this journey, led by CNEWA’s President John E. Kozar, right here.
20 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets the faithful as he enters a church in Inishke, Iraq, on 10 April.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave an interview to National Catholic Register about his recent trip to Iraq:
Cardinal Timothy Dolan remembered the anguish in the voice of a Christian martyr’s mother. The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, informally called Iraqi Kurdistan, is a haven for many such mothers, whose tears watered the day’s march from Mosul and their ancestral home, the Nineveh Plain.
“They taunted me as they were murdering my son; because they said, ‘She is a Christian; she must forgive us,’” Cardinal Dolan recounted, as the mother held before him the picture of her beloved son. When militants from the Islamic State group, known as Daesh by its foes, overran Mosul and the Nineveh Plain in June 2014, more than 110,000 Christian inhabitants of northern Iraq — Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Catholic and Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, but all the descendants of ancient Nineveh — literally walked away from all of their earthly possessions rather than give up their faith. As Cardinal Dolan and a delegation of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) saw during a trip to the region earlier this month, some even gave up their lives.
In this 14 April interview with the Register, Cardinal Dolan speaks about his visit with Christian refugees, their powerful witness of faith, love and sacrifice, and American Christians’ duty to support vigorously the suffering Christians who have given all — families that have given the Church martyrs — to confess Jesus Christ as Lord.
When you went to Iraqi Kurdistan to visit the Church there, what did you see?
What I saw was this blend of terrible sadness, and yet amazing charity and hope. Sadness, because these people who had come from Mosul or the plains of Nineveh — their families go back centuries and centuries, some to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle — had to abandon their homes in a couple of hours’ notice and couldn’t bring anything. They brought their children, obviously, and they brought their elders. The priests and nuns accompanied them on the [10-hour] walk, and they made it safely there. All these people want to do is go back home.
What’s hopeful is that they still have an extraordinarily vivid faith — their resilience is nothing less than profound. What’s moving as well is the remarkable charity and hospitality with which the Christians of Kurdistan have welcomed them.
You and the CNEWA delegation visited with the displaced Christians and other refugees in Erbil and Dohuk. What was it like?
So, we toured a number of camps. There would be thousands of these people in the refugee camps, which are actually rather secure and safe and where the local Christians have opened up schools, medical dispensaries and pharmacies. The people there will be the first to say that they are well taken care of — so, thanks be to God — because of a lot of international Christian support, and, yes, some support from the Kurdistan government and the Iraqi government.
At least they have these secure makeshift caravans, which we would call “trailers,” to live in. And the camp seems to be secure, and their needs and health and food are taken care of, as well as the education of their children. So the charity that has been shown them is remarkable.
Read the full interview.
14 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan embraces Dominican Sister Marie Therese in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 9 April. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Update: Earlier today, the cardinal discussed his trip to Iraq in a televised interview. Click here to watch.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of CNEWA, writes about his trip to Iraq in the latest edition of Catholic New York:
I first returned from a visit to Kurdistan, an autonomous region within the nation of Iraq. Why did I go? Well, for one, because my brother bishops there invited me to come. Two, because the Christian community there is family, a family in a lot of trouble, with much adversity, and to visit them is a very good thing.
They have asked, “Does anyone know of our plight? Have people forgotten us!” I wanted to visit them and answer, “yes” and “no.”
You know of their sorrows. ISIS has as their mission to exterminate the ancient tiny Christian minority, who have been there since the time of the apostles, long before Islam. There, Christian communities are small in size, but big in faith, tradition, worship, education, and charity.
They only want to be left in peace, in their villages, to raise their families and practice their religion. Fanatics have slaughtered them, and driven them from their homes.
Now they are called IDPs — “internally displaced persons.” They walked days from their homes in Mosul and their villages in the Plains of Nineveh, to sanctuary in Erbil and Dohuk, two major cities in Kurdistan, where they have been welcomed heroically.
One renowned agency that is helping the local Church care for them is the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), headquartered here in New York. Bishop William Murphy and I are board members. Along with Monsignor John Kozar, the president, we went to visit these affected people in Kurdistan.
Were we saddened by what we saw? You bet we were! Brave people, tens of thousands, given hours to flee their homes (or have their throats slit, or convert to Islam). They knew there were Catholics and Orthodox Christians relatively safe in Kurdistan, so they walked the two-day journey there, carrying their babies, a few sacks of possessions, propping up their elders, accompanied by their priests and religious sisters.
To see their tears, their anguish, their situation, and to hear their plea over and over, “We just want to go home!” saddened us for sure.
But we were also deeply moved by our visit. The Christians in Kurdistan, often in partnership with Islamic neighbors, have welcomed them. They have camps for them, with food, medical care, clothing, blankets, and schools. Priests, nuns, and devoted lay leaders have embraced them. This charity inspired us.
As did their faith.
Read the complete column at this link. And you can also read it in Spanish here.
14 April 2016
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
The Dominican Sisters arrive for a liturgy at the Syriac Catholic Al Bishara Church at Aishty 1 Camp for internally displaced Christians in Ain Kawa, Iraq. Sister Maria Hanna, second from right, is the superior. (photo: NCR/Tom Gallagher)
Tom Gallagher, one of the journalists accompanying CNEWA Chair Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Iraq this week, interviewed several sisters who were displaced when ISIS invaded their home of Qaraqosh. He posted their dramatic account of their flight to Erbil in this morning’s online edition of NCR.
After the shelling on the five or six Christina villages, people fled, and now Christians in Qaraqosh were leaving for Erbil and other areas.
Sr. Maria Hanna, the Dominican’s superior, spoke by phone to Mosul’s Syrian-Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche. He assured the sisters that the Kurds were going to protect them, not to be afraid, not to panic and that, “Whatever you hear, don’t believe it.” Mouche had been assured in meetings with the Kurdish leaders that the Peshmerga were going to protect them.
In the early hours of August 6, 2014, after morning Mass, Qaraqosh received three shellings that killed two children and one young woman. Within three hours of the killings, the whole community of Qaraqosh left town-- except the sisters
That evening they had dinner and evening prayer. Sister Maria then gathered them and said, “Well it looks like a dangerous situation and I will leave to your choice if you want to go to Ankawa, to Erbil. You can do it. Some of us will stay, but if you want to go, you may.” None of the sisters left.
Around 9 p.m., they received a call from a brother of one of the sisters who used to work with the Peshmerga and he warned his sister, and all the sisters, that it was too dangerous to stay, that the Peshmerga have already have left and withdrawn their troops. “You should leave at this moment,” her brother said.
Sister Maria immediately called Archbishop Mouche and told him that she had news from a trusted source about the urgency to leave and asked the archbishop what he thought. “I’m sitting here with my priests in the garden and everything is beautiful and there is nothing to fear,” Mouche said. “I have information from political sources that there is nothing to fear.”
Fifteen minutes later, the sisters received another call from the same brother. “Leave at this moment. You are in great danger,” he said.
At 10:30 p.m. Sister Maria gathered all the sisters again, as Qaraqosh was in chaos. The phones were not working anymore, so they couldn’t contact Archbishop Mouche. The sisters decided to leave.
Sister Maria started gathering the sisters, including some Franciscan sisters, who didn’t have any means of transportation. Other Dominican sisters were on vacation or visiting families, some were in other villages.
By 11 p.m. the sisters went to their rooms to pack small bags of whatever they would need for two days because there was no place in the van for big suitcases. They thought they would be back after a few days’ time.
Before midnight, they went to the church and prayed in front of the Eucharist. She left one Host at the church and she prayed, “Lord please protect this house and this village.”
Thirty-five sisters, four families and two orphans squeezed themselves into two vans and two small cars and left Qaraqosh.
They came upon other Christians walking, some on donkeys and some on bicycles. “It was a river of people, thousands of people walking slowly out of Qaraqosh,” said Sister Maria.
Read it all.
And read more about Sister Maria Hanna, who was featured Tuesday as part of our “90 Years, 90 Heroes” series.
13 April 2016
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees
Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., greets a child during a visit to a camp for internally displaced families in Ainkawa, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre has been traveling with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the CNEWA team during the pastoral visit to Iraq. This morning, he posted some of his impressions on the web page for Long Island Catholic:
Sunday was a long day but filled with moments that touched our hearts. In the town of Dohuk, Catholic Near East (CNEWA) built, equipped and funds a dispensary that serves refugees from Syria and displaced person (IDP) from within Iraq. The doctors and staff nurses and pharmacists are first rate. The people are the victims of ISIS, which here is called Daesh. The hope they all expressed was to go home and rebuild their lives.
At the two refugee camps we visited we heard the same hope time and time again. One camp was the creation of local Christian groups with help from CNEWA and other Catholic agencies. A second was a government of Kurdistan initiative that included Muslims, Yzidis and Christians. The Christians would take my pectoral cross, kiss it and place it momentarily on their foreheads.
This same gesture was repeated after the Mass we concelebrated in the Chaldean Rite in the village of Inishke. The refugees participated in the liturgy and we shared a meal with them after. They were so proud of being able to offer us a true banquet from their limited means and it was delicious.
13 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York visits a displacement center in Dawodiya, Iraq, on
10 April 2016. (photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
CNA’s Elise Harris had a chance to interview Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop William Murphy as they completed their pastoral visit to Iraq:
As he leaves Iraqi Kurdistan, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said what struck him most during the visit were the people’s faith and hope, despite violent persecution.
“These people from an earthly point of view don’t have much, but my, oh my, their sense of resilience and hope were simply astounding,” Cardinal Dolan said in an interview with CNA.
“Do they mourn the past? Yes they do, but they’re about the present and they’re about the future, and that’s a sentiment that will never leave me.”
Cardinal Dolan is the Archbishop of New York and chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
He was joined by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, a CNEWA board member, for a three-day visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he toured projects aimed at helping refugees and met with families, Church leaders, priests and religious who were displaced as a result of the 2014 Islamic State attacks.
The trip included visits to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, and to the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk. It concluded with a Mass celebrated by Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, in which representatives of several other rites were present, including the Latin and Chaldean rites, as well as the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
Both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Murphy spoke to CNA in a sit-down interview on the last day of the trip to share their thoughts and reflections about what they had seen and experienced.
What are your impressions after spending these days here in Iraq?
Cardinal Dolan: I would find my impression would be on both sides. First of all there’s an impression of sadness and sobriety in what these people have gone through. They’ve lost their homes, their homes that have been in their families for centuries, centuries and centuries, alright. They’ve lost a sense of security, they’ve lost in many ways a sense of stability that is so necessary for human existence. So there is an undeniable sense of sadness and somberness. But then I jump ahead to the other side of the spectrum to say that they haven’t lost their sense of hope. They haven’t lost their faith. We’ve heard people cry out in anguish, but they always have a sense of hope.
And I can’t get over it.
I mean look, you were at the liturgy yesterday. You talk about joyful, reverent, grateful prayer and praise, trusting in God. Of all people you’d think they would be almost dour in Mass. You’d wonder if some of them would be tempted not to come anymore because they were so crushed. We have our parishes at home for Sunday Mass where sometimes there’s a sense of heaviness and people don’t seem interested, and we’ve got prosperity, we’ve got peace, we’ve got stability. These people from an earthly point of view don’t have much, but my oh my, their sense of resilience and hope were simply astounding. And I see it in the priests, I see it in the sisters, I see it in the lay leaders, I see it in my brother bishops. Do they mourn the past? Yes they do, but they’re about the present and they’re about the future, and that’s a sentiment that will never leave me.
Is there a specific moment that was particularly moving for you?
Bishop Murphy and I have shared a number of them, and when we process this it’s amazing that we both have felt the same thing. One would be the desire of people just to go back home. Just to go back home. They’re not saying ‘take us to America.’ They’re saying ‘we just want to go back home, can you help us get back home?’ And number two, the second I think, would be that sense of hope and promise. They’re so resilient that their kind of making the best of what they’ve got. They have this trust in God and they say ‘we wanna go back home, we don’t know how long we’re going to be in exile, but let’s make the best of it. Let’s tend to the basics of faith, education, healthcare, food, shelter, protecting our kids. That’s basic civilization, that’s basic solidarity and they’re doing it magnificently.
As a journalist I sometimes find that people read the news and move on. How can we convince people to continue to be interested and invested in what’s happening here?
Bishop Murphy: One of the things is [that] I’ve been doing blogs each day. They’re not as long as a column, but you get them out. Everybody who’s on that website will see this regularly. Another thing we did was last year, we announced that in the middle of the summer, July-August, that weekend would be Middle East weekend. So we did what we Catholics do and took up another collection (laughs). But we were able to get some more money out of that, and I think we just need to take opportunities like that and call the attention of people to it. Then some people respond and you’ll find some groups will respond. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said: you start it with one, then another, then a third and fourth, and before you know it you have a movement. And I think we should really be encouraging those who catch on to this. To start to do some things on their own that would be helpful. We can’t be the only voice, for example, in Washington. We can be a voice, but we’re just the bishops. Take the decision on Christian genocide. What made the difference there? It wasn’t the fact that the names of x-amount of bishops were there, it was the fact that all of the sudden, people picked up on it. I’m not saying that’s changing things radically, but it’s another force for good.
Read the full interview here.
13 April 2016
During his just-completed trip to Iraq, CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, visited displaced Iraqis in a variety of settings.
Along with CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar and the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the cardinal toured camps and villages, stopped by schools and clinics, and prayed with the faithful in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It was an extraordinary trip, full of meaning and emotion — and, for many facing despair, it carried a message of a unwavering hope.
CNS photographer Paul Jeffrey captured some of these moments in candid, surprising and often moving photographs.
Check out the brief compilation of moments and images below.
12 April 2016
Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home on 7 April to attend a church-run preschool in Ainkawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Photojournalist Paul Jeffrey of CNS this morning filed this item on the CNS blog. He is one of the journalists covering Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s pastoral visit to displaced Iraqis:
Every morning, as her son prepares to leave for preschool, the mother of 4-year old Luis Firas takes a stick of oil and makes the sign of the cross on his forehead.
Blessing is important for this Christian family, which fled from Mosul during the 2014 takeover of the area by Islamic State militants and today — like tens of thousands of other displaced — live in a small modular temporary shelter in Erbil, a town in northern Iraq controlled by Kurds.
As I photographed their morning ritual, Luis grabbed the stick and marked a cross on his mother’s forehead, also blessing her.
When the displaced families arrived in Erbil, a booming oil town fallen on hard economic times and the looming threat of Islamic State they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees — they had crossed no international border — they weren’t eligible for assistance from a variety of international agencies. Neither the governments of Iraq nor the autonomous Kurdistan offered much. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from ISIS, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile.
As almost 20 months have gone by, the church continues to be the de facto manager of aid. The displaced camps are managed by priests-turned-mayors, the schools run by nuns who are themselves survivors of what many consider genocide, the clinics staffed by volunteer doctors who go home at the end of the day to a tiny prefabricated house in a camp for the internally displaced.
Read it all.
12 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York greets parishioners at the end of an 11 April Mass in a displaced-persons camp in Ainkawa, near Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Tom Gallagher from the National Catholic Reporter is part of the team that accompanied Cardinal Timothy Dolan and CNEWA on the pastoral visit to Iraq this week. He had a chance to interview the cardinal and get some initial impressions from his trip:
NCR: In addition to prayer, what practical assistance can dioceses, parishes, Catholic organizations and individuals do to assist Christians persecuted and suffering in Iraq and the Middle East?
Dolan: One of the reasons we come here is to get the word out and let people know what’s happening. First of all, I know you didn’t intend it this way, Tom, but we can never diminish the value of prayer. And that has to be first and foremost. If I’ve ever seen that vindicated, it’s in the vivid faith of the people here. I mean prayer, worship, liturgy, faith means the world to them. And as one lady told us yesterday, “Where else are we going to go, but to our faith?” We can never diminish prayer. I know you didn’t intend it that way.
What can we do? I think we need to get practical. Let’s start supporting vigorously organizations like the Catholic Near East Welfare Association...
...Number two: Let’s advocate. Do you remember when [President] Ronald Reagan for the first time met with [Soviet Union President] Mikhail Gorbachev? He told the American people that he had a list in his pocket of the names of people who were in prison for their religious beliefs in the Soviet Union. He intended to ask Mikhail Gorbachev about each of them. And it worked.
We hold in high regard the advocacy of our Jewish neighbors, especially in New York. They are first to tell us, people like Bishop Murphy and me, “What’s taking you so long? Why are you afraid to advocate with the government on behalf of your people?” We need to do that.
I’ve been moved with the fact that I haven’t detected any anger against the United States among these wonderful people [the internally displaced Christian Iraqis]. In fact, I detect a love for America, almost a trust that America could do something for them. And we can’t let them down. We’ve got to do it. I’m not just talking about humanitarian aid. I’m talking about the plea from them [displaced Iraqi Christians] that we heard over and over again: “We just want to go home. We just want to go home.” So let’s advocate.
Read the entire interview.
To support CNEWA’s work in Iraq, visit this link.
12 April 2016
Displaced Iraqi families are receiving support in a variety of ways from CNEWA.
(photo: Kevin Sullivan)
Today during our pastoral visit with Cardinal Dolan, chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), our mission brought us within a few miles of the Turkish border and a few miles from the devastated city of Mosul.
Our mission today and every day here in Kurdistan, Iraq is to show solidarity with those suffering from the ravages of ISIS persecution of Christians, Muslims and the Kurdish religious community called Yazidis. No group seems to have been spared.
We visited an inspiring CNEWA medical clinic with state-of-the-art medicines and equipment that treat those displaced and now settled in the city of Duhok. Once again, many of the staff are also displaced individuals. The clinic serves Yazidis, Muslims and Christians with a staff whose spirit and dedication are palpable. Hundreds are helped each day in a range of specialities.
We then visited a local parish and celebrated Sunday Mass with a vibrant congregation composed of hundreds of families displaced in the past two years. The Patriarch’s Vicar celebrated the Liturgy in an Eastern rite and Cardinal Dolan preached. For me, one of the most moving parts of the Mass was hearing the congregation pray the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic — very likely a modern version of the language in which Jesus actually taught the prayer to his disciples. Meanwhile, the young adult choir rivaled any choir I’ve heard for their sound and exceeded most for their prayerfulness.
Read the rest and see more pictures from the visit here.