giovedì, ottobre 27, 2016


As Daesh flees Mosul, a priest returns to his parish

By TRT World
Shawn Carrie

The gardens of the church lay in cinders. Its 4,000-year-old sculptures and iconic stone carvings were defaced, windows smashed and doors ripped out of their frames, clothes and goods strewn about the ground covered in dirt and ash. A hadith, or a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, “Cleanliness is half of faith,” is written on the wall of a sleeping area.  
Church bells rang in the Assyrian village of Karemlash, in the Hamdaniyah district of Mosul’s outskirts for the first time since militants took control of the village and expelled its residents. Today, Father Paul Thabit returned to the church where he is the parish priest to find the remnants of what has been converted into an operations base by Daesh.
“I can't describe my joy. My hopes have been realised,” said Father Thabit. “I always held onto hope that we would return — and today it came true.”
The Church of the Holy Saint Mart Barbara had been overtaken by Daesh earlier this year. Twenty-seven kilometres east of Mosul, the unassuming village in the Assyrian Christian region of the Nineveh Plains is just close enough to the main highway from Erbil to seem within the safe zone, but just close enough for the militants, based in Mosul, to make a grab for it.
As Iraqi tanks rolled into the town, they found a ghost town. Empty of civilians, the village appeared to be used solely as an outpost for Daesh to run car bombs out of — evidenced by a still-smoldering pickup truck sitting just outside the front gates where the Iraqi flag now flies. Officers of the Iraqi security forces (ISF) said that fighters had fled without mounting a resistance, leaving behind their weapons and equipment and attempting to burn the stone houses.
On Wednesday, Iraqi army minesweepers were sweeping through the village house by house to clear the area of buried mines and booby traps, which have been a signature leftover seen in towns abandoned by Daesh.
Inside the church, Daesh members had burrowed through a hill to create a labyrinth of five tunnels, each about two metres wide, for weapons storage, sleeping, and to escape through the back of the church behind the hill and out of the village.
“They were using the church for everything —  for sleeping, for relaxing, for hiding from airstrikes,” said Nasser Hussein Diab, an ISF platoon sergeant, as he pushes aside a dusty sofa as wide as one of the tunnels. “They made sniper positions, a bomb-making workshop, a bakery, a well for water, whatever you want.”
As Father Thabit toured the destruction around the church, a spontaneous ceremony started to form when a preacher from the local Shia mosque stopped by to greet him, followed by a throng of soldiers beckoning to take a selfie with the returning imam. One officer brought over an Iraqi flag, and the two men’s candid conversation turned into impassioned speeches to the crowd of soldiers and press. Smiling toward a cross laden with flowers, he spoke with a hearty bellow, half to the imam, and half giving a sermon.
 “We put up this cross today to show we are united, and that we want to live in peace,” Father Thabit said.
“Sunni, Shia, Assyrian, Yazidi, all the minorities of Iraq — there is no difference between us.”

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‘Pray for my people, help my people, save my people’

By Angelus News
Maria L. Torres

Upon facing imminent death, they say that images encompassing a lifetime of memories, of joys and sorrows, flash before our eyes in an instant.
For Father Douglas Bazi, that experience was very real, happening in the moments it took for his body to fly backward many meters through the air … propelled by a bomb blast that destroyed his beloved church in Baghdad.
“[Terrorists] blew up my church, St. Mary’s, right in front of me,” said Father Bazi, an Iraqi-born Chaldean Catholic priest, during a recent visit to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. A bag had been left beside the main gate, he remembered, prompting Father Bazi and a church guard to walk toward the entrance to investigate.
Luckily, they were still seven or eight meters away when the bomb detonated.
“When we awoke there was a lot of dust and we were [temporarily deafened] by the blast,” described Father Bazi, his eyes both intense and caring, his manner gentle and kind — and seemingly driven to share the story of “my people,” the oft-forgotten Christians in Iraq, during his humanitarian trip to select U.S. cities.
“We were shouting at each other, ‘Are you OK?’ and we were watching each other say the words, but we were not able to hear anything,” he told Angelus News.
And that story is just one of innumerable tales of tragedy his people are living through every day, from decades back to the present day, explained Father Bazi. As a boy growing up in Iraq, with aspirations of someday becoming a pilot, war was a “habit” — the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War and the embargo against Iraq.
Although war had been a way of life for decades, things became unimaginably worse from the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq to the present.
“Everything changed in Iraq; [everyone] was fighting each other,” he said, including the Shiites against the Sunnis and the emergence of Al-Qaeda. “And as Iraqi [Christians we] are always in the middle. … We were between two fires always.”
And those fires grew and became more menacing with each passing year.
On Nov. 19, 2006, while serving as pastor at a church called Mar Elia, Father Bazi was on his way to visit some friends. Suddenly the highway in front of his car was blocked by two vehicles. In quick succession armed men exited and ran up to his car, spouting obscenities — and Father Bazi found himself with an AK-47 in his face. They grabbed him and dragged him into the trunk of a car.
“They took me I don’t know where,” Father Bazi recalled earnestly. “When we arrived … they came [and told] me: ‘We are going to open [the trunk], but if you are going to open your eyes, we will put bullets between them.’”
He was blindfolded, pulled out and onto the ground, where he was struck in the face and felt blood gushing when they broke his nose. They took him inside a house, where they chained his hands together and put him in a “stinky” storage room with a toilet, where he would spend almost 10 days, not knowing if he would survive.
Father Bazi endured a barrage of constant accusations from his extremist Islamic kidnappers, from being called an “infidel” to “an American spy.” They withheld water and food for four days. And he was psychologically manipulated.
“During the day I’m like a spiritual father to them. … They would come in and ask me questions. ‘What should I do with my wife?’” he said. “I was tied and blindfolded, giving advice to them.” 
And at night he would endure physical torture at the hands of those same advice-seeking captors when their leaders would arrive. Some of his teeth were hammered out. He was burned across his body. He was struck so savagely his back was broken.
Yet the next day his tormentors would always go to him and ask for forgiveness.
“This is the situation,” said Father Bazi. While many are Islamic zealots, blindly following a completely warped version of religious ideology, others are driven more by extreme poverty and desperation, and “are being used by other people.”
Through it all Father Bazi said he was prepared to accept God’s will. He found spiritual solace in praying the rosary continuously, using the chain that bound his hands — the large lock was for the Our Father and each link was for a Hail Mary.
“It is better to be dead and in the hands of God, than to be alive in the hands of the devil,” he said. His only request: If they killed him, “just let my people know.”
But that never happened, as he was finally released on his ninth day of captivity.
“I think God left me alive because he thinks that I’m still useful,” said Father Bazi.
He returned to his parish, returned to his people and suffered the emotional trauma of his experience largely in silence. It wasn’t until ISIS took over Mosul in 2014, and he was interviewed by an Egyptian TV channel, that he began to share his story.
Father Bazi currently resides in Australia and is an international speaker on Christian persecution and genocide in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East.
“But when I talk about myself, I am always saying, ‘Please don’t look to my story; look to my people, the people behind my story,’” he pleaded. “My people, they are struggling, much more than I am.”
Today the Diocese of Erbil is caring for displaced people (“I never call them refugees,” he said) who have escaped from the Islamic State. They are presently assisting about 75,000 men, women and children. Thanks to generous monetary support from around the world via charitable agencies, they have built four schools, three clinics and one trauma center, and to date they have relocated the affected families in his diocese from temporary tents into stable housing.
“I hope that this year also we will have a hospital. Always the Catholic Church has a big heart,” he said, noting that they offer help to any and all in need, including Syrian Catholics, Orthodox, Armenian, Yazidis and Chaldeans.
Earlier this year, after the U.S. government finally declared that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, Father Bazi’s former parish gratefully responded by recording a special “thank you” video message featuring church children and mailing it to the State Department.
“Now, because of the media, [more people are] realizing, ‘Oh there are Christians in Iraq,’ because many people thought we are Muslim and we became Christians a couple of years ago,” he said smiling. “We are Christians from the first century!”
Despite the suffering Father Bazi has endured and witnessed, he does not wallow in bitterness, he stressed. And despite the unfathomable losses his people continue to face, there is one thing they never lose: their faith in God.
“My people lost everything in one day. Even so, not one of [them] blames God for what happened,” he said. “My people they will tell you, ‘We thank God because he saved us.’ … They lost everything [and] they are saying, ‘Thanks God.’”
And in spite of the chaos, destruction and tragic loss of life that still plague his native country, Father Bazi speaks vehemently against revenge.
“Those people are killing us because they think we are ‘infidels,’” he said, adding that to respond in kind, through vengeful slaughter, is not the Christian answer.
“If we want to live together, then we have to believe in forgiveness, but forgiveness does not mean that we are [weak or that we forget],” said Father Bazi. “I cannot change the past, but forgiveness can change the future. Let’s give a chance to our kids [for] a future and live together. This is forgiveness.
“My people will forgive, but they will not forget who will stand with them,” he continued. “In our culture, when we are enduring the pain, we don’t actually remember who put us in pain, but remember who [pulled] us from that pain.”
Above all, Father Bazi hopes that people will not forget the plight of his homeland.
“Pray for us,” he asked. “Pray for my people, help my people, save my people.”
Those who would like to help support Christians in the Middle East, can go to:

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Iraq Assyrian Areas Retaken But Return Still Distant

(AFP) -- Between bombs, destruction and fears for the future, returning home remains a distant prospect for the Christians of northern Iraq displaced by the Islamic State jihadist group.
Iraqi forces are fighting their way toward Mosul to retake it from IS in an operation that is now in its second week, and some Christian villages have already been retaken.
"I came to deliver a message of hope: Yes, there is indeed a future for the Christians of Iraq, and it is for us to build together," Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako told a gathering of hundreds of the faithful at a church in Kurdish regional capital Arbil.
Bartalla, a Christian town in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, has been recaptured, and there has been fighting in the area of Qaraqosh, formerly Iraq's largest Christian town.
But many displaced Christians are still waiting to return home.
Displaced Iraqi Christians in Arbil have closely followed television coverage in the hope of seeing their homes, and have taken to the streets to celebrate several times.
"Whatever happens, I want to return to my home in Qaraqosh," said Shamo Boles Bahi, 70 years old.
But on land on the outskirts of Arbil that belongs to the Chaldean church, new housing for Christians is under construction -- an indication of the future that many of them will face.
"Although the villages have been retaken by the army, it will be six months, maybe a year, before we can return to live there," said Mundhir Rufain Yussef, the engineer overseeing the construction of the new housing.
"The houses (in the villages) are damaged, there is currently no water or electricity, and mines are everywhere," said Yussef, himself a displaced Christian who is a native of Bartalla.

- Life on hold -
"Today, I received a picture of my house. The facade does not look too damaged, but I am worried about the back," he said, adding that his neighbours' house was destroyed in the fighting.
"The future of the Christians in Iraq is uncertain," he said.
In addition to the issue of reconstruction, security also remains a major concern.
Yvette Hanna, 19, recalled the dramatic conditions of her escape: "Being awakened in the night, having to leave everything behind and flee, praying to get out safely."
She wants to return home, "but what guarantees are there that I will be safe, that it will not happen again?"
Returning home is vital for the future of Christians in Iraq, whose presence dates back 2,000 years, but they have seen their numbers dwindle to just a few hundred thousand due to an exodus sparked by decades of violence and sanctions.
"Since the summer of 2014, Christian society has been on stand-by," said Jean, a French volunteer who travelled to Arbil to help displaced Christians.
"Weddings, births are postponed to await the return of the displaced to their villages," Jean said.
Some also fear that the volume of aid given to Christians by the international community has created a "culture of handouts" that will be difficult for them to escape.
"We pray for unity and reconciliation because without this, our country will fall back into civil war, and we Christians have everything to lose," said Wael Ablahad, a seminary student.
"But I'm confident: I studied in Mosul and I'll be ordained a priest next year, Mosul is where I want to be posted to serve the Church."

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EU Parliament Votes To Protect Christians In Iraq After ISIS Is Defeated

A resolution to protect religious minorities including Christians and Yazidis in Iraq following the expected defeat of ISIS has been passed in the European Parliament.
The European People's Party Group, the largest political group in the European Parliament, tabled this week a joint motion for a resolution in Iraq once the offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State is completed.
The resolution passed on Thursday morning by an overwhelming majority, with 488 votes in favour, 11 against, and around 100 abstentions. Charlie Weimers of the Swedish Christian Democrats told Christian Today it was "now or never" for religious minorities in Iraq.
The motion highlighted ISIS' "draconian regime in Mosul", the jihadist group's last stronghold in Iraq. It noted that those who have managed to escape the city "report that people are starving and desperate to be liberated" and "strongly condemned" mass executions perpetrated by militants.
The motion also said the Nineveh Plain, Tal Afar and Sinjar regions have been "the ancestral homeland of Christians (Chaldeans/Syriacs/Assyrians), Yazidis, Sunni and Shia Arabs, Kurds, Shabak, Turkmen, Kaka'i, Sabaean-Mandeans, and others where they lived for centuries in a spirit of general pluralism, stability and communal cooperation despite periods of external violence and persecution, until the beginning of this century".
Before the Iraq invasion of 2003 there were more than 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. There are now believed to be only around 200,000.
"The extinction of these minorities in the region will have a further destabilising effect," the resolution said.
The European Parliament in February recognised the atrocities committed by ISIS against religious minorities including Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen as genocide. Member states must ensure "the necessary security conditions should be ensured for all those who have been forced to leave their homeland or have been forcibly displaced, to make effective their right to return to their homelands as soon as possible", the motion continued.
Article 125 of the Iraqi constitution gives religious minorities the right to have their own province, and this was guaranteed by the Council of Ministers in January 2014. The motion urged member states to "give their practical and diplomatic support to a sustainable and inclusive post-conflict structure for the region, with particular reference to the possibility of an autonomous province including the Nineveh Plain, Sinjar and Tal Afar, to be politically presented by the indigenous peoples of the region".
Groups acting on behalf of religious minorities in Iraq have long called for a self-governed province to be created in the Nineveh Plain post-ISIS.
"The coming liberation of Mosul is... the defining moment when it comes to the future of Iraq's indigenous peoples," said Lars Adaktusson, who initiated the resolution.
"Now that Islamic State is on its way to being driven out of Mosul, it is indispensable that the EU, together with other countries, shows solidarity with minorities and, within the framework of Iraq's federal structure, formulates an action plan on the future of Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen.
"That means the creation of maximum regional autonomy in Northern Iraq for Christians – Chaldeans, Syriacs, Assyrians – Yazidis and Turkmen indigenous populations, and providing the necessary training support and security guarantees, including support for local security forces, in order for such an administration to be politically, socially and economically viable."
Though the motion is non-binding, there is precedent for the European Parliament to take action following the passing of such resolutions and the European Commission is obliged to respond at a later stage.
When the resolution branding ISIS' actions a genocide was passed earlier this year, an amendment to the motion called for the appointment of an EU special representative for the freedom of religion and belief. Although this, too, was non-binding, the Commissioner appointed someone to the position in May.
After today's vote, Adaktusson told Christian today he was "very happy" with the support showed in Parliament.
"The important issues the resolution is dealing with have been highlighted," he said. "We need on the European side to take responsibility and do what we can in order to stabilise the situation [in Iraq] and make it possible for refugees and IDPs to return to their homelands."
Though the resolution is non-binding, it will "mean a lot" to religious minorities in the Middle East, Adaktusson added.
"The Christian groups, Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans, as well as Yazidis and Turkmen have been fighting for autonomy within the framework of the Iraqi Constitution for a long time. Nineveh was upgraded to a province just prior to the invasion of Islamic State in 2014, so this has been an issue for a long time for these groups," he said.
The passing of the resolution shows both political and moral support for persecuted minorities, he said.
"I also think it's necessary to underline that if we want to preserve the Christian heritage, if we want to keep the Christian tradition within this region, it's essential that these groups will be able to return, and that's not possible without international support."

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Iraqi Christians, Protecting An Ancient Monastery, Watch Battle Against ISIS With Hope

By Huffington Post
Sophia Jones

Mar Mattai Monastery. Iraq.― Standing atop the fourth-century monastery he calls home, the Rev. Thomas peers out at a sand-hued horizon. The morning is still and silent, except for birds singing in the nearby bell tower.
Then, a thunderous boom breaks the calm, sending the birds into flight. It’s the sound of U.S.-led airstrikes on Islamic State militants mere miles from here. 
When ISIS took over large swaths of Iraq in the summer of 2014, including nearby Bashiqa ― the once religiously and ethnically mixed city wedged up against this mountainside Christian enclave ― he decided to stay, whatever the cost.
“In the beginning, we were afraid, but Saint Matthew was protecting us,” said the stoic monk, referring to a Syriac Christian saint who sought refuge in northern Iraq and founded the monastery, now one of the oldest in the world.
As Thomas spoke, war planes flew overhead and another strike shook the monastery.
At least 70 families sought refuge here, by Thomas’ count, just as their ancestors did in centuries past, fleeing persecution to this mountainside sanctuary. 
“If ISIS had reached here,” he said, “they would have driven us out.” 
Thomas would have been just one of a long line of monks killed or expelled by invaders and rulers throughout the monastery’s 1600-plus years of history. 
But luck ― or faith, as he says ― was on his side. ISIS never made it to Mar Mattai. The extremist fighters stopped just short. And now, over two years later, the militant group’s power seems to be waning. A U.S.-backed offensive launched on Oct. 17 could push ISIS out of its last main stronghold here and end its reign as a land-holding force in Iraq. But the effort could take months and come at great human cost ― as the death toll is already steadily rising.
The push gives Thomas hope. And he’s not the only one.
In recent days, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have retaken numerous predominantly Christian areas from ISIS. Though some towns and buildings have been damaged and booby-trapped by the hardliners, their churches looted and homes leveled in airstrikes, the fact that ISIS is on the run is cause for celebration for the Iraqi religious minority they have so terrorized. 
When Nadia Younan heard the war planes and air strikes over Bashiqa, she was overcome with feeling ― and it wasn’t the fear that has consumed her since ISIS rose to power. 
“I’m so happy!” she said, giddily. “The bombing means they’re taking out ISIS.”
The 57-year-old lived in Mosul all her life before ISIS forced her out over two years ago. She was given a choice: convert to their violent, skewed version of Islam or die. 
Younan chose life. She left Mosul with her family on July 19, 2014, at seven in the morning. That moment is burned in her memory. It was a Saturday, she recalls, when she left her home for the last time with a few meager belongings ― mostly cash and medicine for her ailing mother. 
“Are you Nasara?” asked an ISIS fighter manning a checkpoint on the edge of the city. He was using a term to mean the followers of Christ, from Nazareth. ISIS militants have routinely painted Christian homes with the Arabic letter nun, or “N.”
When the fighter realized the family was indeed Christian, he pocketed what little they had left, ordering them to leave. Younan didn’t have a cent to pay the driver who had risked his life to shuttle them to safety, but he bid them farewell without protest. 
“He was a good Muslim,” she said, thinking back fondly. 
With no money and nowhere to go, Younan and her family made their way up the winding mountain path to Mar Mattai. 
“God directed us here,” she said, looking around at the cream colored stone courtyard. “We are safe.”
She’s lived here ever since, relying on the good grace of the monks for basic necessities. 
Younan was heartbroken when her neighbors of three decades joined ISIS. Though she may never return to Mosul, she said, if the militants lose power, it could open a new chapter for Christians here. 
“We want to come back to life,” she said, her lip quivering as she held back tears. 
While the monastery is quiet and near-empty now, it was bustling in 2014 when ISIS advanced on a handful of Christian towns and cities in the area.
The mountain’s name ― Alfaf, from the root Arabic word meaning “thousand” ― pays homage to the thousands of monks who at one time lived and worshipped here.
Most displaced families who initially fled to Mar Mattai have since moved on, fearful that ISIS could possibly break through the Kurdish Peshmerga fighter lines guarding them and storm Mar Mattai, as they have done at other monasteries and religious sites. 
They feared they would suffer the same fate as the Yazidis, murdered en masse, their bodies dumped in shallow graves not far from their own ancestral homeland in northern Iraq. ISIS forced thousands more into sexual enslavement and child soldier training camps. 
“ISIS hates all people,” said Bashar Behnam, a local school bus driver, who is Christian. “They hate Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Christians and Yazidis.”
Before ISIS dug in their heels and gained local support ― mainly due to Sunni Arab grievances towards then Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and his Shiite-led government they slammed as sectarian and authoritarian ― Behnam never had any problems with his Muslim neighbors, he said.
“They have no religion!” a woman standing nearby yelled out, referring to the form of Islam ISIS claims to follow. 
Though the militant group is being pushed out of the area surrounding Mar Mattai, locals still worry about ISIS mortars hitting their homes.
Just last month, several mortars targeted a religious celebration near the monastery, locals say. Some men took up arms when ISIS encroached in order to defend their homes, churches and monastery against the heavily armed militant group. 
While some local Christians have yet to come back, families are slowly returning to the tiny villages below Mount Alfaf. 
Behnam said he had considered smuggling his family to Europe, following the footsteps of his son, who left in 2015 after the local economy tanked due to ISIS ruling next door. The trip cost $11,000. Behnam’s son now works at a pizza shop in Sweden.
“We are so tired,” the 46-year-old said wearily. “It’s always war, war, war.” 
But Behnam says he’s since changed his mind. He’s not going anywhere. And the offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS was a big deciding factor.
Around him, the rumble of war echoed across the sandy plains. But with it came another sound, like a breath of life: children playing in the street and the clanging of workers building a family house.
I have more faith now than ever,” he said, smiling softly beneath a canopy of citrus trees.

Kamiran Sadoun contributed reporting.

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His Beatitude Patriarch Sako visited the liberated Christian towns of the Nineveh Plain

By Chaldean Patriarchate

His Beatitude Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako with his auxiliary Bishop Basileo Yaldo with some priests and faithful visited the liberated Christian towns of the Nineveh Plain.They visited the towns of Bartella, Karmles, Qaraqosh, Teskof, Baqofa and Btnaya. The inhabitants of these totally Christians twons were been expelled by Daesh in 2014 and are still living in camps in Kurdistan.
                                                                              He met with the generals of the army troops and federal police and the Peshmerga.
His Beatitude thanked them for their victories against Daesh, and wished more victory and the liberation of Mosul and other Iraqi areas. In turn, they appreciated this historic visit, which lifted their spirits and hope.

During this visit, we saw the great destruction in most of these towns by Daesh, who burned churches and desecrated them in breaking crosses, statues and writing  phrases calling for hatred, but there are many homes that are. They also noticed the presence of long tunnels inside churches founded by the Islamic Jihadists .
In some towns, we could not enter because of the mines and His Beatitude appealed to lift the mines to allow people to visit their hometowns and see the status of their homes.

Through this visit, His Beatitude wanted to send a message to everybody that these towns are Christian towns and remain a Christian and all Christians did not migrate and they are determined to return. It is Our Holy Land. He wishes also to raise the morale of Christians to return, s increasing their hope and confidence in the future.

In every church H.B. said a prayer for the safety of the heroic fighters and the return of peace and stability in these regions. He also hoped that the bishops of these towns will periodically visit their hometowns to prove their existence and presence.

For this purpose, he stated to declare the year 2017 the year of peace in Iraq, in which we will organize ecumenical prayers and dialogues, workshops, and a variety of activities in order to promote a culture of peace and harmonious coexistence.

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H.E. Bishop Shlemon Warduni attended meeting of youth of St. Peter Cathedral

By Chaldean Patriarchate
Fr. Simon Esshaki

His Excellency Bishop Shlemon Warduni continued his visit around the various groups and activities of St. Peter's Diocese as he attended a meeting with the youth of St. Peter's Cathedral. This time he attended BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ), which is a group of 160 Middle School students led by me, some of the seminarians of our diocese and a few faithful volunteers.
At the meeting, the Bishop advised the children to be good and faithful students, to listen to their parents and church leaders, and also encouraged them to consider vocations to the religious life and the priesthood. Following his speech, the children performed plays and presentations about the lives of various saints.
We were all very pleased and happy to have Bishop Shlemon come and visit our youth group. We will continue praying for him and for the Chaldean Church.

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Clergy meeting for the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Saint Peter the Apostle

By Chaldean Patriarchate

A clergy meeting for the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Saint Peter the Apostle was called upon, and presided over, by His Excellency, Bishop Shlemon Warduni, the Apostolic Administrator, on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. Present there also were His Excellency, Bishop Bawai Soro, Vicar General, and 11 more pastors, parochial vicars, administrators and visitor priests of the Diocese.

At 10:00 am, before the start of the meeting, the bishops and priests adored the Blessed Sacrament at the Cathedral and prayed for a prosperous meeting. Then they proceeded to the Educational Center for the clergy meeting.
Bishop Warduni opening remarks: (i) He invoked the Spirit of God to guide everyone to say and do what is in accordance with God’s will. (ii) He encouraged the participants to be bound with each other in unity and charity. (iii) He reminded everyone that the first duty of a cleric is to be close to the Lord through a prayerful life, which is the ultimate spiritual weapon to stay within the Truth that the Gospel and the Church teach.
Then, the following points were discussed as part of the agenda, which was prepared in advance by the Diocesan Curia:
1) Bishop Warduni updated the clergy about a few decisions that the recent Chaldean Synod, which was held in Ankawa in September 2016, has adopted. In particular, he stated that, after the Synod has nominated three candidates to Rome, the Diocese was now awaiting the appointment of a new Diocesan Bishop by the Holy See.
2) All the clergy present at this meeting emphasized their solidarity with Bishop Warduni and pledged their continued support for Saint Peter Diocese, as an integral part, and under the guidance of, the Chaldean Patriarchate, in communion with the Holy See.
3) According to the canons of the Church and the norms of the IRS that govern religious nonprofit corporations, a Diocesan Finance Committee has been established to institute rules and internal control policies in each parish and in the Diocese altogether to further ensure financial accountability, which essentially will safeguard church assets and guarantees transparency and accountability by all that are involved. The main point that was emphasized is “all monies given to the church should be accounted for by being deposited through church bank account(s)”.
4) A new Media Committee was established in order to: (i) make sure that all websites, TV broadcasts and other means of publications are continuously up and running, and (ii) make sure that what is published or broadcasted on these mediums is purely religious and positively contributing to the building up of the Body of Christ.
5) The 2017 annual liturgical calendar of the Diocese shall be printed with contents largely consistent with those of the Chaldean Patriarchate and others Chaldean Dioceses, in order to emphasize the elements of unity and solidarity of Saint Peter Diocese with the rest of the Chaldean Church. Feast days, social events and national occasions that are particular to Saint Peter Diocese will also be included in the 2017 calendar.
6) Bishop Warduni also informed the clergy of his July 2016 decision to relocate the residence of the monks at Mar Abba the Great Seminary, the results of which have been very positive and well received by both the seminarians and the monks. Similarly, this step was also welcomed by the clergy at this meeting.
7) A tribunal subcommittee of two priests was established to continue the work on marriage annulment cases that have been presented to the Diocese.
8) It was agreed by the participants that Monday, October 24, 2016 would be announced in all churches of the Diocese as "a day for praying and fasting" for the sake of peace, safety and security in Iraq, so that the ongoing war will come to a rapid end.
The meeting ended at 1:00 pm and was followed by a lunch reception at Saint Peter's Church Hall.

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Terremoto: Iraq, colletta per Amatrice

By Avvenire

Ventimila dollari per i terremotati di Amatrice. LI hanno raccolti i cristiani di Erbil, in Iraq, durante le collette promosse per due domeniche in tutte le parrocchie. Lo comunica il Nunzio Apostolico, Alberto Ortega, a cui l'arcivescovo di Erbil dei Caldei, Bashar Warda, ha fatto pervenire la donazione destinata alla Caritas Italiana. «Si tratta di un bel gesto di solidarietà - dice il Nunzio Ortega - da parte di cristiani che sono stati e continuano a essere aiutati dalla Chiesa Universale». Un modo, concreto, per dire «grazie», dimostrando che la solidarietà attecchisce e germoglia anche in territori, come quello iracheno, che da anni vivono situazioni di precarietà a causa dei conflitti in atto nella zona.

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Ninive, il patriarca Sako nei villaggi liberati dall’Isis: “Queste terre sono cristiane”

By Asia News
Foto Patriarcato Caldeo

Una visita carica di “tristezza e sofferenza” per le distruzioni compiute dallo Stato islamico (SI), ma anche una “grande speranza” e un sentimento di “attesa” per un ritorno imminente e l’inizio di una “nuova ricostruzione”. È quanto racconta ad AsiaNews il patriarca caldeo mar Louis Raphael Sako, dopo aver visitato i villaggi della piana di Ninive attorno a Mosul liberati nei giorni scorsi dall’esercito irakeno e dalle milizie Peshmerga curde. In alcuni di questi, per la prima volta dopo oltre due anni, sono tornate a risuonare le campane delle chiese.
Per il primate caldeo, la visita è anche un “segnale importante” rivolto ai fedeli, al Paese e alla comunità internazionale: “Queste sono le nostre terre - afferma - le terre e i villaggi cristiani. A questi luoghi è legata la nostra presenza, e qui torneremo appena le condizioni lo renderanno possibile”. Ed è anche per questo che “è importante non emigrare, ma restare qui nella nostra terra”. 
Il patriarca caldeo, assieme al vescovo ausiliare di Baghdad mons. Basilio Yaldo e un gruppo di sacerdoti e fedeli ha visitato ieri alcune cittadine cristiane della piana di Ninive, liberate nei giorni scorsi nel contesto della offensiva per la riconquista di Mosul, roccaforte jihadista in Iraq. La delegazione ha fatto tappa a Bartella, Karmles, Qaraqosh, Teskof, Baqofa e Btnaya.  
Gli abitanti hanno dovuto abbandonare queste terre in tutta fretta nell’estate del 2014, e con i soli vestiti addosso, davanti all’avanzata e alle minacce dei jihadisti che hanno tenuto per oltre due anni sotto scacco l’area. La maggioranza dei rifugiati vive nei centri di accoglienza e in case prese in affitto dall’arcidiocesi di Erbil, nel Kurdistan irakeno; tuttavia, la speranza comune è poter rientrare a breve nei villaggi. 
Un viaggio “durato oltre 12 ore e che ha toccato sei villaggi” racconta mar Sako ad AsiaNews, e che si è spinto “sino a due chilometri da Telkief” dove sono tuttora in corso combattimenti per la liberazione dell’area. “Abbiamo pregato in ogni chiesa per la pace e la stabilità della regione” e “incontrato i generali” che stanno guidando la campagna militare contro lo Stato islamico”. “Abbiamo detto loro - aggiunge - che sono stati bravi”. 
Sono stati proprio i vertici dell’esercito irakeno e delle milizie Peshmerga “a ristabilire le croci sulle chiese” devastate in questi due anni dai jihadisti di Daesh [acronimo arabo per lo SI] e “lo hanno fatto con orgoglio”. Si tratta di militari sunniti, sciiti, arabi e curdi che “hanno definito un onore la mia visita” nella zona, che è anche “fonte di speranza”. Da parte mia, aggiunge, “li voglio ringraziare per il lavoro che stanno facendo” e “auguro loro ancora molte vittorie e la liberazione finale di Mosul”. 
I militari, prosegue il primate caldeo, “ci hanno accompagnato lungo un tragitto di oltre 200 km”, in cui “abbiamo percorso strade distrutte” e affrontato anche “grandi rischi”. “Sono consapevole del fatto che abbiamo compiuto un passo molto pericoloso - sottolinea - ma l’essere pastore richiede anche coraggio. Il messaggio che ho voluto inviare è… Queste sono ‘le nostre terre’ e noi siamo pronti a tornare. Abbiamo voluto ricordare a tutti la nostra presenza e spero che, in un futuro prossimo, anche altri vescovi vadano a visitare la zona”. 
Mar Sako afferma di non aver provato paura durante la visita, ma profonda “tristezza e sofferenza” per i bombardamenti, le devastazioni, la distruzione dei centri e delle case e “la profanazione delle chiese da parte dello Stato islamico”. I jihadisti “hanno bruciato tutto, demolito croci e lasciato scritte ingiuriose e minacce contro i cristiani”. I danni provocati dalle bombe sono vecchi, aggiunge il patriarca caldeo, ma i danni ai luoghi di culto “molto più recenti, probabilmente sono stati fatti poco prima di fuggire”. Resta però “la speranza e la voglia - conferma il prelato - di ricostruire una vita e una comunità” che da millenni vive nell’area. 
Un elemento che ha “impressionato” mar Sako sono “i molti tunnel scavati sotto il terreno”, alcuni dei quali “attraversano anche le chiese”. “Si tratta di chilometri di tunnel - riferisce stupito - e mi chiedo quanti soldi e quanto lavoro ci siano voluti per fare tutto questo… e che senso ha avuto”. 
A conclusione della visita, il patriarca caldeo rinnova l’appello già lanciato nel recente passato per l’opera di bonifica di terre, campi e case dalle mine e dagli ordigni disseminati dai jihadisti prima di abbandonare l’area. “Non abbiamo potuto visitare alcuni settore - spiega - perché sono ancora disseminati di ordigni. Per questo è molto importante ripulire i terreni, è un elemento di base perché possa riprendere la vita”. 
I successi militari, aggiunge mar Sako, sono “molto importanti” e sono stati accolti “con gioia e trepidazione” dalla comunità cristiana irakena, in particolare dagli sfollati a Erbil e nel Kurdistan irakeno, che “ho incontrato anche in questi giorni”. Le vittorie “sono un segno di unità fra irakeni, e speriamo che questa unità di intenti rimanga anche dopo la completa liberazione di Mosul e di tutta la piana di Ninive. L’unità è essenziale per il nostro futuro”.

Infine, la sera precedente la visita ai villaggi della piana il primate caldeo ha celebrato la prima preghiera ecumenica a Erbil “per la pace e la liberazione” della piana di Ninive. Alla celebrazione che si è tenuta nella chiesa di Maria Madre del Perpetuo Soccorso ad Ankawa erano presenti il patriarca della Chiesa assira d’oriente mar Gewargis III assieme a sacerdoti, suore, religiosi e moltissime persone “fra cui anche musulmani”.  Il primate caldeo ha lanciato infine la proposta di dichiarare il 2017 quale “Anno della pace” in Iraq, per favorire la riconciliazione nazionale e scongiurare il pericolo di ulteriori guerre e divisioni.

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mercoledì, ottobre 26, 2016


Combats en Irak: le cardinal Barbarin appelle à une prière spéciale

« Que tous les chrétiens et toutes les personnes de bonne volonté portent dans leur prière ces événements terribles ! » Dans un communiqué diffusé ce jeudi, le cardinal Barbarin invite à se recueillir pour les populations menacées par les combats en cours dans la plaine de Ninive en Irak.
Cette initiative fait suite à celle du pape François, et elle s’explique par les liens étroits entre le diocèse de Lyon et celui de Mossoul, jumelés depuis plus d’un an.
Ces jours-ci, les affrontements s’intensifient entre la coalition internationale conduite par les Etats-Unis, et les soldats de Daesh, que cette même coalition cherche à déloger de Mossoul.
L’archevêque de Lyon propose à ceux qui le souhaitent de participer à la messe ce vendredi à 19 heures à la cathédrale Saint-Jean, qui sera dédiée aux Irakiens.
La députée Vian Dakhil, issue de la population yézidie victime d’un génocide de Daesh, interviendra lors d’une conférence lundi 14 novembre à 18h30 à l’université catholique de Lyon (campus Saint-Paul).

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Libération de Qaraqosh : le message de paix, de joie et d’espérance de Mgr Casmoussa, archevêque syrien-catholique émerite de Mossoul

By L'Œuvre d'Orient

Aux amis de Qaraqosh et de tous les chrétiens de Mossoul - Ninive
Enfin, Qaraqosh libérée!
Cri de joie, de paix et d’espérance à ses enfants, et à tous ses amis dans le monde,
Et message d’action de grâce à Dieu
Et de gratitude aux hommes courageux des forces armées irakiennes, venus des quatre coins de l’Irak, musulmans et chrétiens, arabes, kurdes, chiites, sunnites…ensemble.
Qui, à l’aube du samedi 22 Octobre 2016, ont pénétré, avec leur drapeau irakien, dans la ville désertée de ses enfants depuis deux ans et trois mois.
L’image de ce soldat vaillant, fils de Qaraqosh, pris d’émotion en foulant le sol de sa ville silencieuse, après une si dure absence, s’aspergeant le front et la tête de sa poussière, comme d’un baume odorant,
Ou de cet autre, son arme sur l’épaule, embrassant la porte d’entrée de l’église de son enfance,
Ou de ce groupe d’officiers et de soldats, se tenant devant le maître autel meurtri par Daech de la grande église de la Vierge, récitant le “je vous salue Marie-Shlama ellakh Maryam” en leur langue maternelle, le soureth, dialecte araméen du temps du Christ,
Ou de ce jeune prêtre sonnant la cloche de l’église de Bartella, autre cité chrétienne libérée de la Plaine de Ninive, la veille ..
Ces images resteront à jamais gravées dans la mémoire collective.
Mon message est aussi un message de gratitude au Kurdistan qui nous a accueilli quand nous étions déplacés, et à tous ceux qui sont venus à notre secours du monde entier, par toutes les voies de coalition et de soutien… pour la libération totale de Mossoul, de Bartella, Mar Behnam, Karamless, Telkeif, Batnaya, Bashiqa, Telleskof, Bakofa… et toute la Plaine de Ninive…
Message de gratitude et de reconnaissance à tous nos amis, hommes et femmes inconnues du monde entier, qui nous ont soutenu par leur solidarité, depuis le premier jour de notre grand exode jusqu’à aujourd’hui, de différentes manières : aide humanitaire de tout genre, de construction d’écoles, d’églises, d’habitations, de centres médicaux, de visites répétées pour les réfugiés de personnages éminents ou d’organisations humanitaires et ecclésiales, d’Europe, d’Amérique, d’Australie…
Amis, comme des soldats inconnus, mais non moins efficaces, vous nous avez fait sentir que nous ne sommes pas oubliés, que nous ne sommes pas tout seuls, que nous sommes aimés et reconnus.
Que dire, le Pape Francois, notre Saint-Père si humain et si spirituel, n’est-il pas le premier bon Samaritain de cette attention !
Vous avez tous plaidé notre cause dans les instances internationales et ecclésiales. Et vous voila qui préparez déjà de nouveaux  projets pour nous soutenir dans les efforts de reconstruction après le retour.  Soyez-en remerciés et accompagnés de notre reconnaissance et de notre prière.
Pour entamer le chapitre de la reconstruction.
Reconstruction du vivre ensemble en harmonie et solidarité: chrétiens de différentes dénominations, avec voisins musulmans, sunnites, chiites, kurdes, arabes, chabaks, yezidis, kakais, mandais …
Dans le respect mutuel et la reconnaissance de la diversité et des droits.
Citoyens tous, au même stade, aux mêmes droits, aux mêmes devoirs.
Alléluia !

+ Basilios Georges CASMOUSSA
  Auxiliaire Patriarcal
 Archeveque emerite de Mossoul

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