venerdì, ottobre 28, 2016
By Aid to the Church in Need
Iraqi Christians, stranded in
Kurdish Iraq, have some reason for hope now that the battle for Mosul and the
Nineveh Plane has begun. However, the Chaldean archbishop who, for two years
now, has played a pivotal role in taking care of the humanitarian and spiritual
needs of the exiled community, urges caution in painting too rosy a picture for
Iraq’s embattled minorities.
“Iran, Turkey and the Kurds all have a stake in Mosul” and
the surrounding area, Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, the Kurdish capital, told
international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need; even after Mosul is
retaken from ISIS—and odds are that will happen before the end of the year—a
bitter power struggle would likely put Christians seeking to return to their
abandoned homes in harm’s way.
For now, the prelate stressed, no concrete plan is in place to
protect the Christians and other minorities upon their return to Mosul and the
Nineveh Plane. He predicted that it would at least take close to a year before
a significant degree of homecoming would be possible.
Meanwhile, the archbishop—who was in New York as the guest
of Cardinal Timothy Dolan—continues to care for the flock in Erbil and
surroundings, which means drumming up considerable funding to ensure that IDP
families can pay their rent, that homes can be heated, that there will be food
on the table, and that schools are functioning. For the past two years, the
Archdiocese of Erbil has received more than $31 M in funding from Aid to the
Church in Need, in addition to support from 16 other Catholic organizations
from around the world.
Contrary to some reports, the archbishop insists that 80
percent of the people under his care wish to remain in Iraq. But he adds that “even
if the number drops to 10,000 families” or some 60,000 people—down from the current
estimated total of 250,000 Christians, including those living in Baghdad—“there
will always be Christians in Iraq.”
Archbishop Warda stressed that the Christians bound to stay
are not just those who cannot afford to leave—on the contrary, he cites a good
number of affluent families who are determined to remain in Iraq, be it in
Kurdistan or Iraq proper. A good number
of them have already started successful businesses in Erbil. A clear sign of
confidence in this future for the local Church, the archbishop has established
the Catholic University of Erbil and fundraising for the institution brought
him to the US.
Leaving aside the intractable enmity between Shiites and
Sunnis—and the growing tensions between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia—Archbishop
Warda said the biggest obstacle in the way of long-term security for Christians
and other minorities is Islamic radicalism. “Islam needs reform and, unlike
Christian violence that was committed o misinterpretation of Scripture,” he
said, “there is a call to violence in the Koran—and that needs addressing.”
It will be a task for courageous Muslim leaders, he suggested, and “maybe, just maybe, Christians can lend them a hand.” Surely,
the study of the Koran and Islamic tradition will figure prominently at the new
Catholic University of Erbil.
“Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre è lieta per l’approvazione della
Risoluzione del Parlamento europeo sulla situazione nell’Iraq
settentrionale, in particolare a Mosul. Ieri l’organo legislativo
europeo ha scritto una bella pagina!”, è il commento del direttore di
ACS-Italia Monteduro. “La Risoluzione, fra l’altro, ribadisce
l’importanza di coinvolgere le organizzazioni di ispirazione religiosa
in interventi umanitari coordinati, in particolare per le minoranze
etniche e religiose sfollate. Siamo grati al Parlamento per questo,
perché l’impegno della Fondazione, a livello internazionale, è molto
forte. Basti pensare che fra i progetti approvati fra il 1° giugno e il
1° ottobre di quest’anno figurano il sostegno finanziario per l’affitto
semestrale di case per i profughi interni cristiani presenti ad Erbil,
per un totale di 1.600.000 euro, e il sostegno finanziario per fornire
cibo a 12.000 famiglie cristiane e non cristiane, sempre appartenenti
alla categoria degli sfollati interni, principalmente a Mosul, per un
totale di 3.800.000 euro.” aggiunge Monteduro.
“L’allarme lanciato dal coordinatore umanitario delle Nazioni Unite
circa la mancanza di adeguati finanziamenti a fronte di una possibile
emergenza umanitaria senza precedenti derivante dall’offensiva a Mosul
viene raccolto ancora una volta da Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre, che ha a
cuore la sorte degli iracheni”. Il direttore della sezione italiana
della Fondazione manifesta apprezzamento anche per “l’attenzione rivolta
dal Parlamento europeo alle minoranze etniche e religiose affinché
siano incluse nel futuro assetto amministrativo e possano partecipare al
processo politico, dopo il necessario ripristino dei loro diritti di
La Risoluzione, fra l’altro, invita gli Stati membri dell’UE a
esercitare pressioni in vista del deferimento alla Corte penale
internazionale del genocidio perpetrato in Iraq, Siria, Libia e altrove
dall’ISIS. “Siamo contenti, perché negli ultimi mesi abbiamo lanciato
diversi appelli in tal senso – commenta Monteduro - Domani, 29 ottobre,
in una grande città europea come Milano, terremo un evento
internazionale intitolato “Help Christians”, scritta che in questi
giorni campeggia anche sul “Pirellone”. Dopo l’approvazione di questa
Risoluzione inizieremo i lavori del convegno più confortati!”.
In Iraq si registra la prima vittima (cristiana) della controversa
norma, approvata di recente dal Parlamento, che ha messo al bando la vendita, l’importazione e la produzione di alcol. A confermare la notizia sono fonti del Patriarcato caldeo interpellate da AsiaNews,
secondo cui la vittima si chiamava Nazar Elias Jaji Al Kas Putrus e
possedeva un negozio di alcolici a Bassora, nel sud del Paese.
Egli era un siro-cattolico originario di Qaraqosh, antica città
assira che sorge nei pressi di Mosul, nella piana di Ninive, nel nord
dell’Iraq. Nazar Elias era nato nel 1969, era sposato e padre di cinque figli.
Due anni fa, con l'invasione dello Stato islamico (SI) di Mosul e dei
villaggi cristiani della piana di Ninive, egli aveva dovuto fuggire
cercando riparo (e sicurezza) a Bassora, città del sud a larga
A differenza della maggioranza delle famiglie assiro-caldee che si
sono riversate nel Kurdistan irakeno, egli aveva deciso di trasferirsi
al sud, dove ha aperto un negozio per la vendita di generi alimentari,
fra i quali vi erano anche alcolici. Una attività esercitata solo da
cristiani e da membri di altre minoranze religiose, perché - secondo
quanto prevede l’islam - ai musulmani è vietato il consumo e la vendita
di alcolici anche se la norma non viene applicata con rigore nel Paese.
Secondo quanto riferiscono le fonti del Patriarcato egli “è stato
assassinato alle 11.30 di sera del 26 ottobre scorso”, a soli tre giorni
di distanza dall’approvazione in Parlamento della norma anti-alcol.
“Uomini armati, a bordo di un motociclo e a volto coperto” gli si sono
avvicinati e “hanno aperto il fuoco”, uccidendolo “a sangue freddo”.
Dietro l’omicidio, avvenuto “nei pressi di un ristorante e sulla
pubblica via”, vi sarebbe proprio “la professione esercitata dall’uomo”,
che di recente è finita nel mirino dell’ala conservatrice della
“L’omicidio di Nazar Elias - proseguono le fonti di AsiaNews
- non è il solo caso di violenze avvenuto nelle ultime ore nel Paese a
causa della legge anti-alcol. Anche a Karrada, quartiere della capitale
Baghdad, anonimi assalitori hanno fatto esplodere un negozio in cui si
Il patriarcato caldeo definisce la legge anti-alcol una “norma
liberticida” e che “in un tempo critico come questo”, in cui è in corso
l’offensiva nel nord “contro Daesh” [acronimo arabo per lo SI] “fa male a
tutti e, in particolare, all’unità nazionale”. “È una legge folle -
conclude la fonte - come quella della carta di identità relativa ai minori” in base alla quale i figli di una coppia in cui uno dei due genitori sia musulmano, diventano essi stessi musulmani.
La legge contro la vendita di alcol è stato oggetto di feroci
critiche anche da parte del presidente della repubblica, il curdo Fuad
Masum, ed è già stata impugnata da un gruppo di parlamentari. A guidare
la protesta il deputato cristiano Yonadam Kanna.
giovedì, ottobre 27, 2016
By TRT World
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
“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
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
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.”
Upon facing imminent death, they say that images encompassing a
lifetime of memories, of joys and sorrows, flash before our eyes in an
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
“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
“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: www.kofc.org/Iraq.
-- 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
"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.
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.
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.
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 -
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.
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?"
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
"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.
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."
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
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
"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
"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
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."
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
“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
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
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 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
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
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.
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.
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
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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