lunedì, giugno 25, 2018

 

Giornata riflessione e preghiera Medio Oriente: card. Parolin, “Papa Francesco ci tiene molto. L’iniziativa parte da lui”

By AgenSIR

“Papa Francesco ci tiene molto. L’iniziativa parte da lui. Ha cercato di coinvolgere tutti i capi delle Chiese cristiane e di coinvolgerli in un’opera comune a favore della pace, sottolineando il contributo che le Chiese cristiane a livello ecumenico possono portare alla soluzione dei tanti problemi del Medio Oriente, soprattutto nei conflitti e nella ricerca della pace”.

Così il segretario di Stato vaticano, cardinale Pietro Parolin, ha presentato al Sir la Giornata di riflessione e preghiera sulla situazione drammatica del Medio Oriente che si terrà il 7 luglio a Bari, finestra sull’Oriente, città che custodisce le reliquie di san Nicola. La Giornata, che vedrà la presenza dei capi delle Chiese cristiane della regione mediorientale, vuole lanciare innanzitutto – ha sottolineato Parolin – “un messaggio di vicinanza e di incoraggiamento. I cristiani del Medio Oriente molto spesso hanno bisogno di sentire davvero vicini i loro fratelli e le loro sorelle del mondo intero. A volte, non si possono dare soluzioni immediate, però è importante che sappiano che la loro situazione sta a cuore alle Chiese. Poi certamente, sottolineeranno il contributo che le comunità cristiane possono portare alla soluzione dei problemi in rispetto dei diritti di ogni persona e di ogni gruppo”.

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Libertà religiosa: card. Sandri, “i cristiani di Siria, Iraq, Libano, Egitto, Turchia non sono persone di seconda categoria”

By AgenSIR

“I cristiani di Siria, Iraq, Libano, Egitto, Turchia, amano il loro Paese, vi sono legati, e lo vogliono servire perché in esso non si sentono ospiti o stranieri: ma vogliono viverci a pieno titolo, non come persone di seconda categoria, che vedono preclusi alcuni posti di lavoro o ruoli di responsabilità all’interno delle amministrazioni”.
È quanto ha dichiarato il card. Leonardo Sandri, prefetto della Congregazione per le Chiese Orientali, al Simposio “Defending International Religious Freedoom: Partnership and action” organizzato a Roma, dall’ambasciata Usa presso la Santa Sede con la Comunità di Sant’Egidio e Aiuto alla Chiesa che soffre. Per il prefetto “vanno bandite tutte quelle forme subdole di affermazioni di dominio o sottomissione, come alcuni progetti di legge approvati o in discussione in alcuni Paesi del Medio Oriente, circa la rettifica o la corretta registrazione della propria appartenenza religiosa. Solo in questo modo – ha sottolineato – si libereranno autenticamente tutte le componenti della società, cristiane e non, che finalmente potranno non sentirsi costrette a legarsi più o meno palesemente al potente di turno per vedere garantita la propria sopravvivenza, atteggiamento che forse troppo frettolosamente noi ci permettiamo di giudicare sulle nostre comode scrivanie in Occidente”.

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venerdì, giugno 22, 2018

 

What about Mosul’s Jewish and Christian sites?

By Rudaw
Chris Johannes

Through the three-year military campaign to retake Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul from ISIS, many old Islamic, Jewish, and Christian historical sites were damaged. As the city becomes stabilized, people returning are just unearthing the scale of the damage and cultural loss.
Notably, Al-Nuri Mosque and its Al-Hadba Minaret were destroyed in late June of 2017 as ISIS was surrounded and detonated the 12th century Islamic structures. ISIS denied they were responsible for its destruction and the US-led coalition said they did not target any religious sites, even though many were used by the extremists.

In 2014 ISIS blew up the Mosque of Nabi Younis, or the Prophet Jonah, where he is believed to have been entombed. ISIS said the mosque, which had previously been used as an Assyrian church, had become a place of apostasy and not of prayer.

The United Arab Emirates, Iraq, and UNESCO announced a $50 million partnership at the Iraqi reconstruction conference in February to rebuild "the cultural heritage of Mosul," as part of the 'Revive the Spirit of Mosul' programme.

"Education, culture and heritage will also be key elements for successful reconstruction. UNESCO's initiative to coordinate international efforts for the reconstruction of the Old City of Mosul deserves our full support," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the time.

Mosul and its surrounding areas are historically some of the most diverse in the Middle East — at different times home to Babylonians, Assyrians, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, and other groups who have followed Abrahamic religions and other faiths like the Yezidis.

The conflict monitor Mosul Eye tweeted photos on Monday of engravings from the west or right bank of Mosul: "Anyone can read and translate the Hebrew inscription, please? One of the Jew's houses in old Mosul, unfortunately, it was destroyed by an airstrike, and this is what's left of it."
Yona Sabar, originally from Zakho in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, is professor a emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) where he specializes in Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures. He told Rudaw English the inscriptions mostly come from Deuteronomy.
"The Lord shall command the blessing upon you in your barns, and in all that you set your hand unto... with long life, peace and success... May God bless you and open His good treasure for you ..." translated Sabar.
He revealed that one of the inscriptions reads: "May the name of Hakham (Rabbi) Yihya son of Meir Daddo, who donated this inscription in honor of his late father, be remembered for his good deeds."
A book written in Hebrew by Ezra Laniado in Haifa in 1981 details that Daddo was the mukhtar, or local representative, of Mosul's Jewish community during World War I.
The book explains that Daddo's son, Yihya, was very altruistic, including donating money to build the southern section of Sasson Synanogue in Mosul, which is where Sabar believes the inscriptions originated before being turned into a house.
Between 1948 and 1951, more than 121,000 Jews left Iraq for the Holy Land in the so-called Operation Ezra and Nehemiah as Israel airlifted tens of thousands of Jews following Iraqi government's intensified persecution of Jews, after the establishment of the State of Israel.
Mosul Eye later tweeted more Hebrew inscriptions from Mosul's war-torn Old City, although the destruction has not just been limited to Jewish and Muslim holy sites.


Through the ISIS conflict, the extremists often used places of worship, schools, hospitals, and community centers as command centers, because the coalition and the Iraqi military made concerted efforts to not target such sites, in line with the fundamental rules of war.
Many sites believed to be historical places of worship for Iraq's dwindling Christian population had suffered from a lack of upkeep and were also converted to dwellings or built over in Mosul's densely populated right bank. Some of the Christian sites destroyed in the conflict were the Mother of Aid in central Mosul, Church of Virgin Mary, and Saint George's Monastery.
Photo Ali al-Baroodi in Mosul Eye

On Tuesday, Mosul Eye shared a photo taken by Ali al-Baroodi of a Catholic Church tower in West Mosul.
"[The] Dominican Order Latin Church's Tower is about to collapse, it requires an immediate action or we will lose it forever. Save the Heritage of Mosul,"
tweeted the conflict monitor.
Baroodi is a teacher by trade and works at the University of Mosul. He photographs the city's destruction and its rebuilding. Baroodi told Rudaw English there has been little done to preserve lesser known religious sites across Mosul.
"Not the Jewish ones, not the Islamic ones, not anything. There is only a survey of the damaged heritage sites in Mosul, so there is not any kind of preservation,"
Baroodi said. "UNESCO is supposed to work on Al-Hadba Minaret and the Church of the Clock, but nothing happens on the ground yet.
"The tower is in danger to fall if there is not any kind of preservation soon."

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Concerto per i cristiani perseguitati: Il Palazzo della Legione Allievi Carabinieri illuminato di rosso per i martiri cristiani

«È un evento unico e importante che testimonia l’impegno dei Carabinieri in favore della pace, in linea con la loro missione di peacekeeping, in difesa di tanti innocenti in Iraq e nel mondo». Così il cardinale designato Louis Raphael I Sako, patriarca di Babilonia dei Caldei plaude al Concerto della Banda dell’Arma dei Carabinieri dedicato ai Cristiani perseguitati organizzato dal Comando delle Scuole dell’Arma dei Carabinieri in collaborazione con Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre.
La serata, che si terrà a Roma martedì 26 giugno alle ore 20.30, presso la piazza d’armi della Legione Allievi Carabinieri in Viale Giulio Cesare 54/P, vedrà per la prima volta la banda dell’Arma dei Carabinieri suonare per i cristiani che soffrono in ragione per la propria fede.
Il patriarca Sako ricorda in particolar modo l’opera dell’Arma in Iraq, dove i carabinieri sono impegnati nella formazione della locale forza di polizia e anche nella difesa della diga di Mosul.
«Proteggere questa diga significa proteggere l’acqua, ovvero un elemento essenziale per la vita dell’Iraq.  Così come è essenziale la formazione della nostra polizia. In Iraq, con la caduta del regime, sono state sciolte tutte le forze di sicurezza. La missione dei Carabinieri è davvero nobile: una forza militare che interviene in un altro Paese non per fare la guerra, ma per difendere la vita e la dignità delle persone».
Nell’ambito della manifestazione il Palazzo della Legione Allievi sarà illuminato di rosso, in ricordo del sangue versato ancora oggi da tanti cristiani in tutto il mondo, così come erano stati illuminati Fontana di Trevi nel 2016 e il Colosseo lo scorso 24 febbraio. «In entrambe le due occasioni mi sono unito in preghiera, assieme alla mia comunità», afferma Sako che, a Roma per ricevere la berretta rossa dalle mani di Papa Francesco il prossimo 28 giugno, sarà presente al concerto assieme al cardinale designato Joseph Coutts, arcivescovo di Karachi in Pakistan. «Stavolta potrò partecipare personalmente e portare la mia testimonianza e quella dei cristiani in Iraq. Anche noi abbiamo un’importante missione di pace in tutto il Medio Oriente». 

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giovedì, giugno 21, 2018

 

Aid Worker: Persecuted Christians in Middle East Continue to Need Aid, Support

By National Catholic Register
June 18, 2018

Edward Pentin

Many Christians have left Iraq, and more want to leave, due to seemingly perpetual conflict, instability and a lack of jobs.
But in Syria the situation is very different, and the reason is mainly because President Bashar Assad guarantees Christians’ survival. “If there’s a regime change in Syria,” warns Sebastiano Caputo, head of SOS Chrétiéns d’Orient in Italy, a Catholic humanitarian charity, “Christians will go, as they’ve done in Iraq.”
That’s why, he adds, it’s “very important to offer humanitarian help, but at same time make people aware in the West about their situation and get their message out to our countries.”
Caputo recently helped set up an Italian branch of the charity that has grown rapidly since it was founded by a group of young French Catholics in 2013. It now has more than 1,400 volunteers working in five countries.
In this interview with the Register in Rome last month, Caputo explained more about the charity’s work, how the needs of Christians vary widely across the Middle East, and why SOS Chrétiéns d’Orient could at some point also direct its help to Christians in the West, where he says the persecution is “psychological” rather than physical.
SOS Chrétiéns d’Orient has expanded now to Italy. How did this come about, and how did you get involved?
I’m a journalist. I work for [the Italian daily newspaper] Il Giornale and Treccani, an encyclopedia where I’ve written about foreign policy and relations between states, with a focus on the Middle East. So I’ve traveled a lot over the past three years. When I was in Damascus in 2015 — in September, during a conference — I was with the chief of mission of SOS Chrétiéns in Syria. I knew him through all the travel I’ve made in the Middle East: Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. I saw how this association worked with Christians in the Middle East. So when I came back to Italy last month, I called on Charles De Meyer and Benjamin [Blanchard, founders of the Paris-based SOS Chrétiéns d’Orient] and asked if Paris was interested in creating a representative office in Rome.
How did they react?
They were very happy about that because Rome is the city of the Vatican and Italy is a country in the middle of the Mediterranean and has an important Mediterranean culture. So they helped me to set up this office. On April 26, the co-founder of SOS, Charles De Meyer, came to Rome and we held a press conference to introduce the Italian members. There were 100 people there interested in the venture. Now the goal is to send a team of 10 Italian volunteers to join the French missions throughout the Middle East where SOS is present. Secondly, the goal is to work to build a network for donors, because SOS only works with private donors. They collect donations, and the volunteers seek donations in the field. So it’s very transparent: It’s good for the donors, but also the volunteers. They’re very young Westerners, tired of doing nothing [to help those in need], and these people go to these countries where Christians face a difficult situation, war principally, but not only that.
Is the term “Christian persecution” too broad?
Yes, it’s very simple to speak about Christian persecution, but all the countries are different: Some suffer from war and discrimination, but Lebanon is a multiconfessional country. In Iraq, the problem was when Daesh (ISIS) was there. Most Christians have left the Nineveh Plain, but in Syria, Christians have a good social position. The good thing about SOS [volunteers] is that when they go to a country, they respect the society and try not to put Christians in danger. They respect the society and a multiconfessional society. They work for the survival of a multiethnic and confessional society.
Some Muslims also work with SOS, is that right?
Yes, when they work with local people, it’s often with Christians, but also with Muslims — for example, in Syria and other Muslim countries, so they don’t meet discrimination. They respect all the people there, and that’s a good thing.
What practical help do you give, say, in Iraq compared to Syria?
Part of it is humanitarian work: We give food to the people and help other Christian communities to rebuild churches or help projects such as scouts, and they help to rebuild schools or hospitals. And when they rebuild hospitals and schools, it’s not just for Christians, but all the population. We don’t ask if they are baptized. The differences in Iraq and Syria are not great, as both countries have been at war with Daesh. So it was more about emergency help, food and water while in Egypt and Lebanon, which are not at war. We offer help teaching English and French to young people, or just live with them. It’s important that they know the West is with them, important that we know each other, and they feel our presence there.
Do Christians in Iraq and Syria want to stay?
This is a very important question because Iraq has experienced war since 2003. Many there have only ever known war and don’t know what peace is, and so they want to leave because they don’t have the past anymore. In Syria, it’s different. They’ve had war for eight years, but before that, society was very tolerant, multiconfessional and peaceful. So people have a memory of what life was like before the war and want to stay. So it’s completely different: All the Christians in Iraq want to go; in Syria, most Christians want to stay. It’s very interesting. I noticed that when I went to Syria. Before and during the war, they always have had a good relationship with the government and the government respects the Christian communities.
Continua a leggere...»

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Iraq: la lenta rinascita della Piana di Ninive

Luisa Urbani

Nel 2014 la Piana di Ninive è caduta sotto il controllo dei miliziani jihadisti del sedicente Stato islamico. Violenze, conflitti, case distrutte. Una situazione che ha portato all’allontanamento di decine di migliaia di persone. Così nell’agosto del 2014 è iniziato l’esodo dei cristiani. Nell’estate del 2017, dopo tre anni dalla fuga dei cristiani, il primo ministro iracheno Haider al Abadi ha annunciato che le truppe irachene avevano liberato Mosul, la più grande città irachena che era controllata dallo Stato Islamico.
L'Iraq, un Paese in ginocchio L’Iraq del dopo Isis, però, è un Paese in ginocchio che deve ripartire da zero. A Ninive le macerie si stagliano per chilometri e chilometri: case, ponti, strade, ospedali, chiese. Poco è sopravvissuto alla furia del Califfato e ai mesi di combattimenti per strappare all’Is la roccaforte di Mosul e i villaggi cristiani della Piana.
La paura di tornare
Nonostante siano mesi che tutta la città di Mosul e l’intera pianura di Ninive sono state liberate dal dominio dei jihadisti, ancora molte città della Piana di Ninive sono quasi vuote perché molti cristiani hanno paura di tornare in quei luoghi. “Oltre 6.000 famiglie sono rientrare nei villaggi della Piana  – spiega nell'intervista mons. Basilio Yelda, vescovo ausiliare di Baghdad – però sono ancora molte le persone che hanno paura di rientrare nelle proprie abitazioni".
Mancano servizi e strade “La rinascita è lenta, c’è ancora molto da fare. È essenziale accelerare i lavori di ricostruzione. C’è ancora un clima di incertezza, non c’è sicurezza e soprattutto mancano scuole, ospedali, acqua ed elettricità. Oltre alle case bisogna ricostruire anche il tessuto sociale ed economico. Abbiamo bisogno – prosegue il vescovo ausiliare di Baghdad - di interventi di urbanistica e ristrutturazione. L’accesso a molti villaggi è bloccato per via della mancanza delle strade”.
Il lavoro, il sogno più grande “Il desiderio più grande delle famiglie tornate nelle loro cittadine è il lavoro. Tutti vogliono lavorare per tornare ad avere una vita come prima. Bisogna garantire un futuro attraverso il lavoro.  La mancanza di occupazione getta un’ombra sul futuro e sulla rinascita di tutta la zona. Ricostruzione e ripresa delle attività sono i fattori chiave per il rientro delle centinaia di migliaia di esuli". 
Il futuro è buio “Non c’è un futuro chiaro per queste persone e questi villaggi. Qui, ogni giorno succede qualcosa che non permette di capire quale sarà il destino di questi villaggi. A quattro anni dall’ascesa dell’Is - prosegue mons. Basilio Yelda  - e a un anno dalla loro sconfitta militare, il futuro resta ancora incerto per noi. Abbiamo bisogno – dichiara – dell’intervento del Governo”.
L’importanza del cristianesimo in Medio Oriente “Avere i cristiani nel Medio Oriente – spiega – è di fondamentale importanza perché anche loro hanno costruito la cultura di queste terre. L’importanza dei cristiani – prosegue - è emersa anche nel corso delle ultime elezioni politiche: tutti i partiti volevano avere almeno un membro cristiano. Questo perché le persone sono consapevoli che i cristiani sono persone buone e pacifiche”.
L’appello dell’ONU Dello stesso avviso del vescovo ausiliare di Baghdad è anche Antonio Guterres, segretario generale dell'ONU, che, in occasione del colloquio avuto il 20 giugno con il Patriarca Kirill, Primate della Chiesa ortodossa russa, ha sottolineato come il cristianesimo sia “parte integrante” della cultura mediorientale e occorra “assicurare il ritorno dei cristiani e dei membri di altre minoranze religiose”, garantendo la stabilizzazione della situazione politica in Iraq.

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Medio Oriente: Guterres (Onu), “favorire il rimpatrio dei cristiani fuggiti da Iraq e Siria”

By AgenSIR

Il cristianesimo è “parte integrante” della cultura mediorientale, e occorre “assicurare il ritorno dei cristiani e dei membri di altre minoranze religiose” allontanatisi dai propri Paesi d’origine a causa di situazioni di violenza e persecuzione, garantendo in particolare la stabilizzazione della situazione politica in Iraq e Siria.
Lo ha dichiarato Antònio Guterres, segretario generale dell’Onu, in occasione del colloquio avuto mercoledì 20 giugno a Mosca con il Patriarca Kirill, Primate della Chiesa ortodossa russa. Guterres – riferiscono fonti e agenzia russe riprese da Fides – ha espresso parole di apprezzamento per l’impegno profuso dal Patriarcato di Mosca nel dialogo interreligioso, e pur ribadendo il giudizio generalmente condiviso su regimi mediorientali come quello siriano, ha ammesso che quei regimi, a modo loro, sotto certi aspetti rappresentavano un fattore di protezione per le minoranze religiose. Durante la sua visita a Mosca, il segretario generale dell’Onu ha incontrato anche il presidente russo Vladimir Putin e il ministro degli Esteri russo Sergej Lavrov.


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mercoledì, giugno 20, 2018

 

US aid to Iraqi Christians, Yazidis on fast track via Catholic Relief Services

By Crux
Courtney Crogan

The United States Agency for International Development has announced it is investing $10 million into coalitions led by Catholic Relief Services and Heartland Alliance to help rebuild Christian and other minority communities in Iraq who suffered attempted genocide under the Islamic State.
“In Iraq, although the coalition has largely driven ISIS from the battlefield, much of Northern Iraq now faces the daunting task of repairing broken infrastructure and rebuilding a shattered social fabric,” said USAID Administrator Mark Green as he announced the funding at the Interaction Forum in Washington, D.C., June 14.
The announcement came one week after reports that Vice President Mike Pence was “incensed” over the “bureaucratic delays” in delivering aid promised to the Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq.
The United States government will stop using “slow, ineffective and wasteful United Nations programs and to instead distribute assistance through USAID in order to provide faster and more direct aid to Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq,” according to the vice president’s press secretary.
Pence has directed Green to travel to Baghdad and Erbil in the coming weeks to “report back with an immediate comprehensive assessment addressing any issues that could delay the process of aid distribution.”
Kevin Hartigan, Catholic Relief Services’ regional director for Europe and the Middle East, told CNA that “We are grateful for this new funding that provides greater assistance for Christians and other religious minorities returning to northern Iraq.”
“It will allow Catholic Relief Services to continue and expand the projects we began in 2014, working with Caritas Iraq to provide critical assistance to Christians, Yazidis and many other Iraqis of various faiths who had been displaced by violence and are now returning to their homes,” he continued.
Since 2014, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Iraq have served more than 300,000 Iraqis affected by the conflict through their offices in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Dohuk, and Erbil.
CRS will use the most recent funds to “assist the Catholic Church of Iraq to help all war-affected families with the provision of shelter, emergency assistance and education and trauma healing for children,” said Hartigan.
Iraq’s Christian population was devastated by the Islamic State in 2014. Two thirds of the approximately 1.5 million Christians who formerly inhabited Iraq either fled or were forced out by the violence, according to In Defence of Christians.
“ISIS fighters used most of the 45 churches in the old city for shelter, target practice, and torture and, in the case of the Dominican church, as a place to hang their victims from inside the bell tower,” wrote Father Benedict Kiely after visiting Mosul last month.
Iraqi military forces regained control of Mosul from the Islamic State in July 2017; yet only ten Christian families have returned to Mosul’s old city, which had more than 3,000 Christian families in 2014, according to Kiely.
“Across the Nineveh Plain, where Christians trace their roots back to the time of the Apostles, many Christians have returned nonetheless,” noted Kiely.
Archbishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil said earlier this year that Christians are “scourged, wounded, but still there.”

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Iraqi iconographer honors his Syriac roots

By Catholic News Service
Doreen Abi Raad

When Islamic State fighters overran Qaraqosh, Iraq, in the summer of 2014, Mothana Butres was able to grab only a single volume from his father's collection of thousands of Syriac books and manuscripts.
The handwritten, 600-year-old book of Syriac hymns now inspires much of Butres' work as an iconographer.
From a modest walk-up apartment in Zahle, Lebanon, a city not far from the Syrian border, the Syriac Catholic iconographer and refugee creates his sacred art in a sparsely furnished living room. As he works, he sings the hymns he has committed to memory from the sole book he managed to save.
Butres is the creator of the Our Lady of Aradin icon, a centerpiece of the first Catholic shrine dedicated to persecuted Christians. The shrine is housed in St. Michael's Church in New York City and was dedicated June 12.
"The inspiration when I was working on Our Lady of Aradin was that it was the Virgin Mary who was protecting the Christians," Butres told Catholic News Service.
He chose to present Mary in the traditional wedding dress of the Aradin area of Iraq "to represent that the Virgin Mary will always be a part of the Christians in Iraq and that she is the protector of Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East," Butres said.
He said that when faced with an ultimatum by Islamic State fighters, Iraq's Christians gave up their land but refused to give up their faith.
"The people who were persecuted, their blood is a stronger message than anything I could ever convey," he said. But the recent persecution and the oppression suffered by his ancestors led him "to the way I think and the way I do my work."
Butres said he believes his icons can be an instrument for intercessory prayer. The prayers of the people who visit the shrine in New York and pray before the icon of Our Lady of Aradin are joined with those of the persecuted Christians.
"Based on what Jesus told us, that 'if two people are gathered in my name, I will be among them,'" he said.
The Syriac book Butres treasures from his father's library collection also awakened him to the lost practice of writing books by hand, especially in the Syriac language, which is spoken by Christians in certain areas of Syria and Iraq, including Qaraqosh. Syriac also is used in the liturgy of some Eastern churches, including the Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Maronite Catholic churches. The language is related to Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
"I'm trying to revive the value of the handwritten texts. Books used to be handwritten," Butres said.
As part of an ongoing personal project, Butres intends to write out the entire Bible in Syriac on a long scroll of leather just over a foot wide. In three months of work, the tiny, intricate text he has etched extends 16 feet in length and comprises the first five chapters of the Old Testament.
"I believe that in writing out the Bible, we can discover it in a new, deeper perspective, more than just reading it," he said.
In his icons, Butres often incorporates streams of handwritten text related to the image, which contributes to preserving the Syriac language, heritage and spirituality. The icon of Our Lady of Aradin, for example, includes the Hail Mary in Syriac.
Butres' introduction to iconography began at age 12; a deacon at his church in Qaraqosh taught him the ancient art as well as formulas for producing colors and varnishes from natural products, for example, using eggs and wine for shades of red, using beeswax for varnish and using deer musk to give the icon a scent.
Prayer and religious formation were part of Butres' daily life growing up in a Syriac Catholic family as one of 16 children.
"We were very close to the church," said. "Every day at dusk, we went to the church to pray," he recalled, adding that for "anyone who didn't participate, there was no dinner." The same went for missing Sunday Mass: no lunch and dinner.
That pious upbringing fostered vocations, he said. One of Butres' sisters became a Dominican nun. His brother, Nimatullah, is a priest serving the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance, which is based in Bayonne, New Jersey. Father Butres attended the dedication ceremony for the Our Lady of Aradin shrine in New York.
The artistic Butres became a deacon at age 20 and studied theology at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, earning a bachelor's degree.
Butres intended to complete his master's degree in theology, carrying out his research in Qaraqosh, but had to abandon all he had accomplished there when Islamic State attacked his childhood home.
That home, overtaken, gutted and ruined by Islamic State, is under repair now. From Lebanon, Butres created the Our Lady of Qaraqosh icon as a gift for his family, intending it as "a protector of the house where she was always present."

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Incertezza, paura e speranza fra i cristiani che tornano a Mosul

By Asia News

Dopo quattro anni “vi è ancora un clima di incertezza” fra i profughi di Mosul e della piana di Ninive, perché l’opera di ricostruzione “prosegue, ma con lentezza” e oltre alle case “bisogna garantire un futuro attraverso il lavoro”.
È quanto racconta ad AsiaNews don Paolo Thabit Mekko, descrivendo la lenta rinascita di Mosul e della piana di Ninive a un anno dalla vittoria - militare - sulle milizie dello Stato islamico (SI, ex Isis) che hanno fatto della metropoli del nord per lungo tempo la loro roccaforte. “La situazione generale di incertezza che si respira nel Paese - aggiunge il sacerdote - acuita dallo stallo nella formazione del nuovo governo e le accuse di brogli, contribuiscono a complicare ancor più la situazione e generano paura”. 
Dopo anni di violenze e terrore perpetrati dalle milizie di Daesh [acronimo arabo per lo SI], oggi nel settore orientale di Mosul la vita è normale ed è anche molto più facile spostarsi all’interno dei quartieri occidentali. Dalle aule delle scuole alle fabbriche, alle piccole imprese, la rinascita della metropoli del nord passa attraverso il rilancio della scuola, del lavoro e dell’apertura di spazi commerciali impensabili all’epoca del “califfato”. Fra questi un “caffè letterario” dedicato all’incontro e alla lettura.
In queste ultime settimane, riferisce don Paolo, “almeno 100 famiglie cristiane” sono rientrate nel settore orientale di Mosul, sulla sponda sinistra del fiume Tigri, che ha patito meno le devastazioni dell’Isis.  “Un primo gruppo - prosegue - anche se non si può ancora parlare di stabilizzazione. L’obiettivo è la riapertura nelle prossime settimane della chiesa caldea di san Paolo. Sarà un momento significativo per tutta la comunità”. 
In città la situazione delle case abitate un tempo dalle famiglie cristiane “è buona”; poche sono andate distrutte e la gran parte è stata occupata da musulmani. Ora si sta cercando di ottenerne la restituzione. Nella piana di Ninive, sottolinea il sacerdote, la realtà è “diversa” perché i “danni sono molto maggiori, molte sono state bruciate” ed è essenziale “accelerare i lavori di ricostruzione”. 
Fra i pendolari vi sono anche gli studenti universitari di Karamles che, ogni giorno, compiono il tragitto che li separa dalla cittadina della piana di Ninive alla loro università. “La situazione in città - racconta il sacerdote - è di relativa stabilità e vi è libertà di movimento. Questo vale per entrambi i settori, orientale e occidentale, dove sorge la città vecchia ed è maggiormente colpito. Nei giorni scorsi mi sono recato di persona nella zona, per incontrare alcune famiglie di dignitari musulmani e festeggiare la fine del Ramadan. Con loro abbiamo parlato della rinascita di Mosul, che non può prescindere dalla presenza dei cristiani come chiesto espressamente dai leader islamici moderati”.
Intanto la Chiesa caldea rinnova la propria missione volta a “proteggere, promuovere e integrare” quanti hanno perso tutto, a partire dalle loro case, per mano jihadista. Molte di queste famiglie sono tuttora sfollate interne o emigrate all’estero, in condizioni di estrema precarietà e incertezza. E' di conforto l’invito di papa Francesco nel suo Messaggio 2018 per la Giornata mondiale del migrante e del rifugiato, mentre oggi si celebra in tutto il mondo la Giornata del Rifugiato lanciata dall'Onu.
“La gran parte dei rifugiati - racconta don Paolo - vive ancora oggi nel Kurdistan irakeno. Uno dei problemi più gravi è la disoccupazione, la mancanza di un lavoro che getta un’ombra sul futuro e sulla rinascita di tutta la zona. Ricostruzione, ripresa delle attività sono fattori chiave per un rientro delle centinaia di migliaia di esuli, soprattutto di quanti sono fuggiti all’estero”. “A quattro anni dall’ascesa dell’Isis - conclude - e a un anno dalla loro sconfitta militare, il futuro resta ancora incerto per noi”.

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martedì, giugno 19, 2018

 

Critical deportation hearing sparks protest in Downtown Detroit

By Click on Detroit
Pryia Mann and Reporter Derick Hutchinson

Hope has turned into desperation for families of Iraqi immigrants detained by ICE. Now, they're demanding answers ahead of a critical court hearing.
Family members have gone months without communicating with their loved ones facing deportation, and that silence has many residents restless.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union said the Iraqi government will only take back citizens who volunteer to be deported and that detainees are being threatened by ICE agents if they don't sign.
ACLU members told a federal judge that signing the documents is "the equivalent of signing their own death warrant."
Protestors stood outside federal court Monday claiming Iraqi nationals were threatened by ICE agents into signing the voluntary deportations documents.
"Basically saying if you don't agree to self deport, you'll spend your lives in prison separated from your family," said Nadine Yousif Kalasho, of Code Legal Aid. "They're being coerced into signing documents that will eventually lead to their deportations."
ACLU members and Code Legal Aid said Chaldean and Muslim Iraqis could be killed if they are deported to Iraq.
"A lot of them have cracked," Kalasho said. "They're helpless and starting to believe these people who are not telling the truth."
In court, an attorney for the Department of Justice disputed the claims, saying coercion might have happened during consulate interviews with Iraqi officials where ICE agents were not present.
"We're just here to plead and say, 'Let them be free,'" Rita Daniel said.
Daniel's brother, Steve Shakkuri, said the family is praying he will be released. The 39-year-old Chaldean man, from Sterling Heights, was detained in January during a routine check-in with ICE agents.
Shakkuri was brought to the United States legally as a child and convicted of felony retail fraud as a teenager. His family said he spent the next 20 years turning his life around, and recently got married and had a baby boy.
"It's been rough to have someone just taken away, separated from family," Daniel said. "He missed Father's Day with his son. It's really hard."
After hearing arguments, Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered both sides to negotiate privately so that lawyers have time to meet with detainees before they talk to Iraqi officials. The next round is scheduled for the end of June. 

13 giugno 2017
Baghdadhope

La "stretta" voluta da Trump nei confronti degli immigrati colpisce duramente la comunità caldea negli Stati Uniti

15 giugno 2017
Baghdadhope

Mons. Basel Yaldo sui caldei arrestati negli USA: "I governi non ci ascolterebbero"

June 16, 2017
Click on Detroit

Michigan lawmakers pen letter on deportation of dozens of Chaldean-American immigrants

 
23 giugno 2017
Fides

Il Patriarca caldeo: “tristezza e preoccupazione” per la vicenda dei cristiani iracheni che il governo USA vuole espellere 


6 luglio 2017
Asia News

Detroit: più di 100 migranti irakeni cristiani a rischio di rimpatrio 

July 10, 2017
Fox2
Chaldeans in metro Detroit fear new round of ICE arrests


12 luglio 2017
Fides

Bloccata per altre due settimane l'espulsione degli immigrati caldei. Ma si teme un altro giro di vite  

25 luglio 2017
Fides

Giudice di Detroit blocca per 90 giorni la deportazione annunciata di immigrati iracheni


July 26, 2017
Fox2

Some Chaldean detainees could receive pardons from Gov Snyder  

April 27, 2018
Pacific Standard

Detained Iraqi Immigrants Are Fighting Ice for Their Day in Court 

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Cristiani perseguitati: Acs, la Banda dei Carabinieri in concerto il 26 giugno a Roma. Testimonianze da Iraq e Pakistan

By AgenSIR

Martedì 26 giugno alle ore 20.30, presso la piazza d’armi della Legione Allievi Carabinieri in Viale Giulio Cesare, a Roma, per la prima volta la Banda dell’Arma dei Carabinieri, composta da 90 elementi, si esibirà in favore degli oltre 200 milioni di cristiani che in tutto il mondo soffrono persecuzione a causa della loro fede. Organizzato dal Comando delle Scuole dell’Arma dei Carabinieri in collaborazione con Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre (Acs) il concerto sarà accompagnato dal Coro degli Allievi Carabinieri del 137º Corso, e intervallato dalle testimonianze dei due cardinali designati Joseph Coutts, arcivescovo di Karachi in Pakistan, e da Louis Raphael I Sako, patriarca di Babilonia dei caldei. Nel corso dell’evento interverranno anche il generale Luigi Longobardi, mons. Santo Marcianò, arcivescovo Ordinario militare per l’Italia, il card. Mauro Piacenza, Presidente internazionale di Acs. “Un incontro-riflessione su uno dei temi più scottanti che riguardano i diritti fondamentali dell’uomo: squarciare il velo dell’indifferenza e porre in essere azioni concrete contro la persecuzione dei cristiani nel mondo e la conseguente negazione della libertà religiosa”, commenta il generale Longobardi, Comandante delle Scuole dell’Arma dei Carabinieri. “I Carabinieri – aggiunge – da sempre impegnati a difendere e a garantire i diritti dei più deboli e indifesi, sia in Patria che in missioni di Pace all’estero, desiderano con questa serata attirare l’attenzione verso questa complessa situazione, affinché si possano attuare misure che evitino la discriminazione, perché ogni uomo e ogni donna ha diritto di professare in libertà la propria fede. Tutti devono poter manifestare la propria religione. Non è un fatto privato. Non si può rinunciare alla denuncia e neppure all’azione. Il mondo istituzionale e politico ha il dovere di rispondere – come più volte è stato già fatto -, con forza e decisione alle persecuzioni contro i cristiani e contro qualsiasi altro culto”.

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lunedì, giugno 18, 2018

 

To save Christianity on the Nineveh Plains, it’ll take security and jobs

By Crux
John L. Allen Jr.

Though Catholicism is always full of drama, which is what makes it so utterly fascinating, some things are more dramatic than others. While 2018 is only halfway over, my early nominee for the most compelling Catholic storyline of the year comes from Iraq and the Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Project.
Inés San Martín and I just returned from a week on the Nineveh Plains and we saw the miracles unfolding there, in one of the world’s toughest environments to be a Christian.
For centuries the Nineveh Plains were considered a Christian stronghold in the Middle East, anchored by a series of traditionally Christian villages. In fact, when ISIS first arose, many experts toyed with the idea of encouraging Christians from elsewhere to move there as a “safe haven.”
Yet when ISIS arrived in 2014, things changed overnight, as more than 100,000 Christians were forced to flee and their villages were gutted, with churches, monasteries, businesses and private homes torched, torn down, or badly defaced.
Today, however, those towns are rising from the ruins, and many Christians, though not all, are coming back. Places with names such as Qaraqosh, Teleskof, Karamless, Alqosh, and others, are once again thriving Christian communities, with big plans for the future.
All this is thanks to the Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Project, organized and led by the local churches, and backed by donors such as the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need and the Knights of Columbus.
(The Knights are a principal partner of Crux.)
The determination, courage and vision of these Christians is awesome to witness, and it provides one with fresh hope that perhaps Christianity isn’t destined for extinction in the land of its birth after all.
Yet speaking with these Christians, especially members of the younger generation, it becomes clear that rebuilding their homes, however essential, doesn’t mean it’s “job over” in terms of persuading them to remain. It’s more akin to a point of departure, not a destination.
Over and over, what San Martín and I heard are that two things are required if idealistic and deeply faithful young Christians are going to stay here and try to make a go of it: Security and jobs.
Twenty-year-old Rashel Groo, a Chaldean Catholic from Qaraqosh and a computer science student at Ankawa’s new Catholic University, is a typical example. She’s smart, motivated, with good English and a bright future, exactly the sort of person who could help anchor the future here - and right now, she’s planning to get out.
“If I could find a good job here to build a life, maybe,” she said. “But why should I stay here without that?”
Continua a leggere...»

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‘Mogul for the Martyrs’ wields business moxie to save Iraqi Christians

By Crux
John L. Allen Jr.

Few Western bishops these days are building either new universities or hospitals, mostly because they don’t have either the money or people to justify it. In the case of hospitals, any movement is usually in the opposite direction by selling them off.
If a Western bishop were to put up a university or hospital, however, it would at least be a fairly recognized and accepted thing for him to do. Imagine the reaction, however, if a bishop proudly announced that, in addition to all that, he was also putting up a boutique 30-bed hotel and a strip mall, both of which will turn a tidy profit for the church.
The howls of “scam” and “scandal” would probably be loud enough to deafen entire neighborhoods. After all, while there are plenty of exalted titles that come with being a Catholic bishop, “mogul” isn’t usually on the list.
Yet in the Archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq, that’s exactly what the deeply entrepreneurial Archbishop Bashar Warda is doing, and here he’s hailed as a visionary - because everyone knows that in the context of today’s Iraq, what he’s doing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme but more akin to a survival strategy.
He is, in effect, a “mogul for the martyrs,” determined to ensure that a suffering church won’t just survive here but actually thrive.
“My community needs a lot of jobs,” Warda explained on Thursday as he showed me around the construction site of his new hotel, slated to open in September.
“Most Christians who have left Iraq have done so because of wars, sanctions, persecutions, and sectarian violence, and I can’t control any of that,” he said. “But if they have a good job, at least they’ll think twice before leaving.”
Warda’s fear of an exodus isn’t idle. From a Christian population of 1.5 million before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, today the total number of Christians left in the country is perhaps 300,000, and some believe it’s lower than that.

Why should I stay here?
While the reasons for that out-migration are many, most boil down to what I was told by 20-year-old Rashel Groo, a computer science student at Ankawa’s new Catholic University.
“If I could find a good job here to build a life, maybe,” she said. “But why should I stay here without that?”
Groo also cited another factor: “There are more opportunities for women abroad,” she said. “Here the culture is more close-minded.”
Groo, in a sense, is the uphill climb Warda faces: She represents the best and brightest of the next generation of Chaldean Catholics here, a talented and ambitious young person who simply doesn’t believe she’ll be given full range for those gifts unless she goes abroad.
(The good news for the archbishop, however, is that three of Groo’s friends say their preference is to stay, though none is truly sure that’s going to be possible.)
In his relentless efforts to stem the tide, Warda’s gambling not just on spiritual care but economic development - trying to prime the local economic pump by giving Christians opportunities to find jobs and run businesses, thus giving them a sense that a decent life here isn’t just a pipe dream.

Seeking the next opportunity

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Transformation of Iraqi village a warning about anti-Christian tides

By Crux
Inés San Martín

Heroic efforts are underway to guarantee the continued presence of Christianity in Iraq, particularly on the northern Nineveh Plains, a land dotted with monasteries built in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries.
Not far from the Plains, located on both sides of the border dividing Iraq from Kurdish-held territories, stands the city of Shaqlawa. It serves as a reminder of what awaits if the waves of anti-Christian hostility that often crest here, some covert and some brutally in-your-face, don’t recede soon.
Once a city where Christians, Muslims and Jews lived together in peace, Shaqlawa, located some 20 miles from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, today has 10,000 Muslim families and fewer than 200 Christian ones.
There are no Jewish families left, and Christians continue to move out at a pace of 10 families a year, as they’re no longer able to resist bans on opening stores and owning businesses.
Among the Christian families left is that of Father Samir Sheer, a Chaldean Catholic priest who was ordained five years ago and who currently lives in Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil.
“We have many Muslims in Shaqlawa who have the same ideas of [Islamic terrorist group] ISIS,” Sheer told Crux on Thursday. “They hate us. Not all of them, because I have many Muslim friends, but the big majority doesn’t like us.”
In addition, he’s convinced - due, he says, to personal experience - that if an Imam points his finger at a Christian, calls him an “infidel” and asks his followers to kill him, “they will [do it], no questions asked.”
In 1997, a friend of Sheer, Havel Lazar, and his father, Lazar Mati, were killed by a mob of 200 angry Muslim Kurds. They were taunted, tortured and butchered, and their bodies were cut into pieces and thrown in the garden of a Christian family.
Allegedly, the Muslim Kurds killed them because the sister of Sheer’s friend wanted to marry a Muslim man, though the priest suspects the fact that Lazar Mati had gotten a position at the local government office also contributed.
Their crimes were never investigated, and today they’re honored on the grounds of a parish that belongs to the only Catholic church in town. The violence against this father and son, Sheer said, began after an Imam accused them of being infidels and called for their murder.
Masoud Barzani, at the time leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and eventually the president of the Kurdistan Region for over 12 years, went to Shaqlawa at the time and promised to stop the growing violence against Christians, who were victims of burglaries and arson, yet nothing was done.
According to Sheer, Muslims would come into a house of a Christian family and claim it as their own, forcing them to leave.
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Emmanuel Macron a rencontré l’archevêque de Mossoul

By La Vie segnalato da Il Sismografo blogspot
Pascale Tournier

La rencontre n’était pas inscrite à l’agenda officiel. Elle a même été organisée à la dernière minute. Vendredi 15 juin, vers 9h, Emmanuel Macron a rencontré l’archevêque de Mossoul et de Qaraqosh, Yohanna Petros Mouche, dans son bureau.
« C’était une rencontre intime, pas du tout formelle », a confié à La Vie l’évêque syriaque, à l’issue de ce rendez-vous. Cet entretien n’est pas dû au hasard : il s’inscrit dans la préparation de la rencontre entre le Président et le pape François au Vatican, le 26 juin prochain. Car parmi les dossiers que le chef de l’État compte aborder avec le souverain pontife, celui du destin des chrétiens d’Orient trône au-dessus de la pile. Même si, depuis le printemps 2017 et la défaite de Daech dans la région, la population a pu peu à peu rentrer dans les villages, la situation dans la zone n’est pas encore totalement stabilisée.
Durant les vingt minutes d’entretien, Mgr Petros Mouche a d’abord rappelé au locataire de l’Élysée les liens historiques qui unissent la France et les chrétiens d’Orient, puis a remercié tous les Français qui ont contribué, au sein de la coalition internationale, à la libération de la plaine de Ninive et de Mossoul. Le Président s’est montré très à l’écoute. Il a même pris son temps. Le directeur de cabinet de Matignon et le chef d’État major, qui devaient ensuite voir Emmanuel Macron, ont dû patienter dans l’antichambre.
À la fin de la rencontre, l’évêque irakien a invité le président français à venir en Irak pour admirer le monastère de Mar Behnam. Un lieu chargé de symboles et d’histoire pour les différentes communautés de la région. Situé dans un village sunnite, le mausolée – détruit par l’État islamique en mars 2015 puis rénové – abrite les reliques de saint Behnam, l’un des martyrs les plus importants de la chrétienté orientale. Musulmans et yézidis viennent aussi y prier.
En cadeau, l'archevêque de Mossoul a offert à Emmanuel Macron une page tirée d’un livret de messe retrouvé dans les ruines d'une église de la ville de Sinjar et que les islamistes n’avaient pas brûlée. Visiblement touché, Emmanuel Macron lui a demandé de lui lire ce qui y était écrit en arabe. Il s’agissait de la prière du Notre Père. Puis il a enbrassé Mgr Petros Mouche.

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Congregazione Chiese Orientali: da domani la 91ª assemblea plenaria della Roaco

By AgenSIR

La situazione ecclesiale della Terra Santa, delle Chiese in Medio Oriente e la diaspora in Europa a causa dell’immigrazione e la conseguente cura dei fedeli orientali nei Paesi europei: sono questi i principali temi in agenda della 91ma assemblea plenaria della Roaco (Riunione Opere Aiuto Chiese Orientali) che si svolgerà da martedì 19 a venerdì 22 giugno, presso l’Aula della Congregazione Generale della Casa Generalizia della Compagnia di Gesù, a Roma.
Durante l’assemblea verrà commemorato il 50° anniversario della Roaco, presieduta dal card. Leonardo Sandri, prefetto della Congregazione per le Chiese Orientali. Il programma prevede nella sessione del 20 giugno, dopo una messa celebrata dal prefetto nella chiesa di Santo Spirito in Sassia, alcune considerazioni sulla situazione delle Chiese in Medio Oriente, con particolare attenzione alla Turchia, Siria, Iraq e Terra Santa, con la partecipazione dei Rappresentanti Pontifici della Siria, il card. Mario Zenari; della Turchia, mons. Paul Russell; dell’Iraq e Giordania, mons. Alberto Ortega; nonché di mons. Segundo Tejado Muñoz, sotto-segretario del Dicastero per la promozione dello sviluppo umano integrale e del Vicario Apostolico di Anatolia mons. Paolo Bizzeti. Nella stessa giornata è previsto l’intervento di mons. Richard Gallagher, segretario per i Rapporti con gli Stati. Sarà anche oggetto di attenzione la situazione ecclesiale della Terra Santa, verificando nel contempo gli aiuti grazie ai proventi della Colletta del Venerdì Santo. Parteciperanno il delegato apostolico a Gerusalemme, mons. Leopoldo
Girelli ; il custode di Terra Santa, padre Francesco Patton, e il Vice Cancelliere della Bethlehem University, fr. Peter Bray. Il giorno 21 sarà interamente dedicato alla riflessione sul tema “Diaspora in Europa a causa dell’immigrazione e le sfide per la cura pastorale dei fedeli orientali in Europa”. Interverranno mons. Dominicus Meier, ausiliare dell’arcidiocesi di Paderborn e coordinatore per la cura pastorale dei fedeli orientali in Germania; mons. Stephen Chirappanath, visitatore apostolico per i fedeli siro-malabaresi in Europa; mons. Josyf Milan, coordinatore dei fedeli ucraini in diaspora; mons. Saad Sirop, visitatore apostolico dei fedeli caldei in Europa; mons. Yuriy Kolasa, vicario generale dell’Ordinariato bizantino in Austria, e Abba Petros Berga, coordinatore dei fedeli etiopi in Europa centrale. Il giorno 21 parlerà Jan Tombiński, ambasciatore dell’Unione Europea presso la Santa Sede e mons. Silvano Maria Tomasi, membro del Dicastero per la promozione dello sviluppo umano integrale sulla tematica dell’immigrazione. Venerdì 22 giugno i partecipanti all’assemblea saranno ricevuti in udienza da Papa Francesco. Durante i lavori verrà presentata una brochure commemorativa del 50° della fondazione della Roaco.

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venerdì, giugno 15, 2018

 

World’s First Shrine Dedicated to Persecuted Christians Inaugurated in New York City

By National Catholic Register
Angelo Stagnaro

The city that touts the greatest ethnic diversity of any single spot on the globe celebrated the Catholic Church’s first shrine dedicated to persecuted Christians around the world at St. Michael’s Church in Midtown Manhattan Tuesday.
The city, which was attacked by terrorists Sept. 11, 2001, now stands as a “Beacon of Christ’s Peace” ― a place described by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan as “a gathering place of quiet reflection for those who cherish the gift of religious freedom.”
Christ warned his followers repeatedly in the Gospels that they would assuredly experience persecution because of their love for him. St. Paul’s letters are replete with such warnings, as well.
“This is a conflict that has been going on for centuries and will not end until the final victory of Christ,” explained Father Benedict Kiely, founder of the Our Lady of Aradin Shrine.
The newly inaugurated shrine at St. Michael’s parish enshrines the Our Lady of Aradin, “Mother of the Persecuted Church” icon, which depicts the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus as Iraqis dressed in traditional wedding attire. Cardinal Dolan called the icon “timely and relevant” in a formal letter of blessing and congratulations. Cardinal Dolan was not in attendance for the inaugural June 12 Mass, but sent representatives along with his letter.
Though the two are depicted as Iraqis in the icon, the shrine is meant to be a place of prayer for the entire persecuted Church, including those who live in relative freedom in Christian-dominate countries.
Aradin means “Eden” in Aramaic, the name of the village where the icon was commissioned. Aramaic is the language Jesus spoke and is still spoken in parts of Iraq and Syria, both colloquially and in the Church liturgy.
Around the icon’s border are the words of the Ave Maria prayer written in Aramaic.
Mouthana Butres, the artist who wrote the enshrined icon, was driven from his home in the Christian town of Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plain by the Islamic State and is now a refugee in Lebanon.
In his letter to Father Kiely, Cardinal Dolan wrote, “How timely, and how relevant, that we welcome our Mother to the heart of New York.”
“Throughout the world, but especially in the Middle East, Christian brothers and sisters are facing persecution, ethnic cleansing, martyrdom and genocide,” explained Father Kiely.
Christians are the most persecuted group in the contemporary world. In a recent letter to the United Nations, the Holy See reported that more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed every year because of their faith.
Every year, the Christian nonprofit organization Open Doors publishes the “World Watch List,” which lists the worst 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. The 2018 “World Watch List” includes the following countries as its “top 10”: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Iran.
The International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need reports that the religiously motivated ethnic cleansing of Christians is so severe that they are set to disappear completely from parts of the Middle East within a decade. The need to give aid is dire, as Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, has told the Register.
“The attacks on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, marked by so much suffering and pain, but also by so many acts of bravery and courage, alerted the world to the growing reality of radical Islamic terrorism,” Father Kiely said in an interview with the Register. “Now, in 2018, attacks on Christians are happening on a daily basis somewhere in the world. There is not a single news or commentary show in today’s media landscape that regularly covers the daily vicious attacks on men, women and children solely because they are followers of Jesus Christ.”
Father Kiely, a man of calm but prayerful and focused demeanor, told the Register, “In the summer of 2014, ISIL/ISIS and other Islamic jihadists swept across the Nineveh Plain of Iraq, home to Christians since the time of the apostles. The Islamists, including ISIL/ISIS and other groups, also overran much of Syria, bombing Damascus, where St. Paul was baptized. In Egypt, Christians have been slaughtered in churches, in villages and in their homes. In Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia — even in Europe — Christians are being persecuted to the point of death for their faith. Yet this is not newsworthy.”
Father Kiely visited Iraq for the first time in 2015, not long after the Christian genocide began there. “I was struck by the tremendous faith of the people who had left with absolutely nothing because they refused to convert to Islam. ISIL/ISIS terrorists demanded they ‘convert or die’ ― instead, they chose Christ,” he said.
“I was in the devastated city of Mosul a bit ago, and it was still filled with bodies and unexploded bombs at that point. The Christians there have suffered so much, and they constantly asked for our prayers. Our shrine is a place for both victims of persecution and the relatively free Christians of the West to pray continually for the persecuted Church.”
As Cardinal Dolan remarked, the shrine will be “for all who cherish religious freedom” and “a place to pray for all the displaced Christians of the Middle East and for the whole world.”
When asked as to the appropriateness of a shrine and an icon dedicated to persecuted Christians, Father Kiely become thoughtful and pointed out that the faithful have always given such value and honor.
“Authentic prayer will always inspire some kind of action. Just as we all hold a photo of our loved ones near our hearts to remind us of their love and their closeness, so Christians, from the very beginning, have given special value and honor to images and special places of prayer and devotion,” he said.
Before creating the Our Lady of Aradin Shrine, Father Kiely founded Nasarean.org ― an organization dedicated to helping the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and throughout the world
“We are at a Lepanto moment in Western history,” said Father Kiely. Lepanto refers to the 1571 naval battle that turned the tide for Christian forces, outnumbered 10-to-1 against Muslim invaders of the Ottoman Empire in the waters off southwestern Greece.
This shrine is not without precedent. There are shrines to many martyrs of Islamic and atheistic persecution, including the Shrine of the Martyrs of Otranto, the site of a Muslim invasion of Italy in 1480 in which 813 Christian men and boys were slaughtered when they refused to convert to Islam.
“We must pray with the same fervor that the Christians prayed then to save Western civilization, not just from the danger of radical Islamist extremism, but from radical, aggressive secular liberalism. Prayer for the Persecuted Church is a Christian duty,” said Father Kiely. “The witness of persecuted Christians inspires us to speak the truth in love and to bear witness, even to martyrdom, in our society. In other words, have some guts to live the faith.”

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