venerdì, ottobre 24, 2014

 

The Dilemma of the Iraqi Christians

By Italian atlantic Committee
H.E. Habeeb Mohammed Hadi Ali Al Sadr
Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the Holy See
October 23, 2014

Since the emergence of the modern Iraqi state from and on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, the Iraqi Christians started to have a ray of hope and experience some religious freedom and active civil participation in public life, based on the new principles of citizenship, nationalism and secularism adopted by the new government in building new institutions for the country. All that made the Iraqi Christians more interactive and the first among others to absorb the changes, being significantly instrumental in rolling the wheel of development.
The Christian leaders, ministers, and technocrats played a pivotal role in establishing the state on civil bases, and many other Christians were prominent artists and intellectuals with a unique distinction. They exercised their responsibilities without pressures nor being marginalized, and gained the respect of both governors and governed thanks to their wisdom, high moral richness and experience, integrity and ethics.
Nevertheless, they have been waiting until these very days to have their full rights, in terms of freedom of belief and cult. The new Iraqi constitution ensures their equality in rights and duties in the same way as their fellow citizens, and its articles provide them with all the benefits related to minorities. Yet no ad hoc legislation on Christians has hitherto been approved by the successive Iraqi parliaments despite their importance. As long as such rules will not see the light and continue to be delayed or obstructed, Christians will not obtain their rights and freedom.
What is most important for Iraqi Christians is to have a new secular Iraq that balances between the respect of other religions and the civil rights implementation, because they strongly believe that religion can be separated from the state. As Iraqi Christians use to say “religion is for God and the state is for all”. Therefore, the enactment of the relevant constitutional provisions is the only certain guarantee to gain their full citizenship and to dispel this feeling of being discriminated and treated unfairly.
The most feared thing among Iraqi Christians and other minorities is the growing religious trend within Islam linked to the takfiri extremist ideologies. The takfiris do not recognize nor respect other religions or even Muslims who follow other doctrines, and resent liberal democratic principles, behaviors, and laws, which they contradict with their wrong way of interpreting the Islamic Shariah law. They consider the Christians as kuffar (non-believers), blasphemous, and a fifth column allied to Western Christians in the fight against Islam, although it is known that the West has never attached any importance to the eastern Arab Christians. They received some consideration only when immediate Western strategic interests were concerned, while being the first to pay the high price of the Western reckless policies in the region.
Our Christians suffered like all the Iraqi people in the last decades of the twentieth century due to the authoritarian regime. They tasted the evil of the dictatorial rule, resulting in bitter sufferings and violations of human rights, and watched their countrymen die in disastrous wars of aggressions. Iraq’s wealth was repeatedly exposed to endless conflicts which brought with them international sanctions, embargoes, and, consequently, misery, misfortune, bad health services, and corruption.
When nationalism proved unable to serve the regime’s goals, the Christians were surprised by the drastic shift from the secular (Baathist) regime to the so-called plan B (Religious Campaign). The then Iraqi leader attributed to himself the title of God’s slave and believer, falsely claiming his descent to the family of Prophet Mohammed in order to win over the population against the anti-regime movements emerging out of the failure of the Baathist ideology.
All these contradictions sparked the rebellion and anger that led to the revolution in March 1991, known as shaabania. The regime was on the verge of being overwhelmed by the crisis, and in reaction let Islamic extremist groups enter the country with the support of some regional governments, so as to keep the population under control. Such groups started to brainwash the new generation, giving out high amounts of money. Over time, the extremists succeeded in turning the fundamentalist incubators they had established into terrorist groups, particularly in the western area of Iraq. Terrorists were assured that they would have been the last to be eliminated in the event of a fall of the regime.
The Iraqi Christians did not welcome these changes and started to get alarmed. Moreover, the embargo inflicted by the international community severely worsened the economic situation, and as a consequence a large number of Christians, especially among the intellectuals and the most educated people, opted to leave the country, giving birth to a massive wave of emigration – most probably the biggest flow of Iraqis who left the country with no return.
Iraq lost hundreds of thousands of its finest sons profession-wise, like high skilled technicians, physicians, as well as intellectuals, who offered their services to other host countries. Thus, also the Iraqi church had to endure the loss of the best elements of the Iraqi Christian community, and could do nothing to prevent it.
The remaining Christians were the elderly people and those who still had some business ties, or were just waiting for the immigration papers to be ready in order to leave the country for the “family reunion”, as they were used to term it. Others Christians, though, had to stay against their will waiting for a better future to come.
As of late, the exodus of the Iraqi Christians was also an outcome of the regime strategy of nationalizing all health institutions and schools belonging to the church. The same Christian institutions that used to provide humanitarian services for all citizens, without exception, and represented a manifestation of coexistence between the two religions, were being repressed by the regime.
When the Iraqis saw the light of freedom on 9th April 2003, the Christians hoped again to be finally treated as equals, all the more so when they saw their fellow Christians taking part in the Iraqi Governing Council. However, they wished to achieve their rights without the help of foreign interventions. The international coalition spurred the resistance to the occupation of the country, binding together the defeated Baathists and terrorists groups. The Iraqi innocent people were targeted in markets, squares, state infrastructures and institutions, without exception of Churches nor Mosques.
By making use of systemic destructive methods, the terrorists’ project aimed and still aims to undermine the democratic experience of pluralism in Iraq, which represented a glimmer of hope through the Arab Spring to liberate the Arab people’s will and to achieve freedom, justice, and dignity − a long sought dream.
The Arab people were ruled by unjust traditional systems and inherited regimes, where their will was confiscated. The terrorist organizations and their supporters, who backed them up with money, weapons, religious declarations (Fatwas), and manpower, initiated a chain of bloody crimes against our people, including the Christians. These latter were subjected to their terror and innumerable attacks, like the terrible sinful attack on the Church of the Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in 2010, which killed more than 50 worshippers during the mass with two young priests, and the kidnapping and murder of Bishop Faraj Rahho, born in Mosul.
The brutal attacks created a desperate reality in the country that forced hundreds of thousands Christians to flee after selling their properties, estates, and belongings, resuming another wave of new immigration abroad which was facilitated by the intervention of some Western countries.
His Holiness the former Pope Benedict XVI, together with the Middle Eastern archbishops, warned the international community about the increasing migration of the Christian population due to the harsh living conditions in Iraq. To raise awareness on the Iraqi Christian predicament a Middle East Synod was summoned by the Pontiff on October 10-14, 2010. Among other important decisions, the Synod issued a strong appeal to the Governments and people of the region as well as to the international community, calling for a halt of violence against the Christians and of their emigration from Iraq, the cradle of civilizations and religions of which they are historic components.
From October 2010 until 9th June 2014, calm was restored and just isolated incidents occurred. That is why five hundred thousand Christians decided to remain in their homeland, following the Holy See and the bishops’ recommendation not to be influenced by the events and to keep on their faith and stay in Iraq to share the suffering and hope with their co-citizens, looking to a better future with God’s help.
As a consequence of the past tragic events, the national Government doubled the security measures to protect monasteries, churches. and Christian-populated areas. The Government was supported by prominent Islamic religious references, especially the Iraqi Imam Al Sistani, while some political blocs offered their spiritual backing to their beloved Christians and their solidarity in good and bad times.
The leadership of the Kurdistan Region showed an admirable response in embracing all the Christian families endangered by terrorism. A coordination with the central government was created on the basis of mutual mechanisms to re-integrate the refugees in the system and the state’s administration and institutions. The refugees were given a pension and salaries from local banks, and the Ministry of Displaced and Migration provided financial grants and ensured that the Iraqi ration cards were distributed to all the unfortunate Christian families in the region as temporary measures to be enacted until when the situation will not allow them to return to Baghdad and other important cities.
Regrettably, what happened on 10th June 2014 is equivalent to a humanitarian earthquake, a dreadful disaster for the Iraqi Christians which has never been taken in due consideration by the international community. The Christians of Mosul woke up and found the streets replete with the ISIS black flags, announcing the establishment of the Islamic State and giving them an ultimatum of few hours: either to convert to Islam or pay the jizya or to be killed by their swords thirsty of blood. This fate was not an option to the Yazidi nor to the Shabak, the Sheaa or the Turkmen, and they were killed instantly.
The Iraqi Christians in Mosul, with distress and sorrow, watched their Assyrian, Syriac and Chaldean heritage and manuscripts being destroyed by ISIS overnight. They saw with their own eyes barbaric acts like the bombing of their shrines and symbols of faith, their women and children horrified, their houses and possessions looted, their elderly and priests humiliated. They were all thrown out in the street with nothing but their own clothes. They started walking towards an unknown destiny, hungry, thirsty, and wounded, hardly standing on their feet. It is a tragic disaster that brings us back in history and recalls the genocide of the Armenian Christians leaving their houses in a panic, being displaced to different neighboring cities in search of a shelter to save themselves.
Yes, it is a catastrophe. Those people had not committed any crime in their life; on the contrary, they have enriched the Iraqi past and present history with their creativity, achievements, and peaceful values. But now they have to face such a fate and an unknown end, despite the fact that until yesterday their generous work had enhanced the Iraqi public welfare.
His Holiness Pope Francis was extremely distressed hearing the horrifying news of the crimes committed in Iraq, and fearful about the future of the Iraqi religious minorities, the dispersal of their heritage and the loss of their religious and civilization history. To lift some of their sorrow and suffering, besides his repeated appeals to prayer towards the faithful, he instructed the Caritas organization and the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” to  act immediately by sending aid to the displaced, helping  more than 2.550 families.
Moreover, the Pontiff sent His Eminence Cardinal Filoni as personal envoy to Iraq on 12 August 2014. Cardinal Filoni’s mission was to check the situation by his own eyes and to distribute humanitarian assistance to displaced families, assuring the Holy See’s spiritual closeness. He met with spiritual leaders and governmental representatives, joining them during  gatherings and events.
Through the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, His Holiness Pope Francis also appealed to the Islamic religious leaders to ensure that their voices rise up in condemning those crimes and that the perpetrators were not given any reason to legitimize their terrorists acts.
His Holiness also appealed to the United Nations and its Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, urging them to carry out their humanitarian obligations towards the Iraqi minorities in distress, and to unite to all the religious leaders of the Middle Eastern churches, on top of them the Iraqi Patriarch Sako in his continued request to save the Iraqi Christians from this slow genocide. Terrorism persists to expose them to a ruthless series of violence led by blind bigotry. Patriarch Sako is fervently requesting the international community, the European Union, the Arab League and all those of good will to clear the planes of Nineveh from the grip of the ISIS criminals.
The planes of Nineveh consist of 13 villages that must be protected by establishing a tight security zone enabling the displaced Christian families (amounting to 150 thousand people) to return to their homes and churches, and to prepare themselves for a wider mission to liberate Mosul from evil. A compensation for the moral and material damages they have undergone should then be granted to them.
Regrettably, no concrete and serious action has been taken thus far to address the suffering of the Iraqi Christians, neither by the central government in Baghdad, nor by that in Erbil, where no plan of liberation of Mosul and Nineveh’s surrounding has been contemplated. They merely focused on the liberation of Mosul’s dam and of the cities of Tel Uskuf and Batnaya, with the backing of the US drones and air strikes. The main aim of the military operation was to defend the Region of Kurdistan and to prevent the ISIS advance towards Arbil, while protecting the interests of the American fleet.
On the other hand, the Christian bishops would like to see a coordination between the central government and Erbil to solve the problem with the help of both the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga. Further disappointments have concerned the slowness in the welcoming of the displaced families in the region and the scarce quantity of the humanitarian aids they received. The grants of one million dinars provided by the Government was not enough to accomplish the mission as promised.
The constant delays in the payment of the employees’ salaries and pensions, as well as of their families ration are to be added to the poor health care service, especially for the disabled and the elderly with chronic diseases. Moreover, as there was no objection by the displaced families to be moved to the central and southern governorates, where some relatives and acquaintances could host them until better times, the Iraqi airlines provided only few flights.
And we do not have to forget that refugee camps need potable water, electricity, and other services, particularly schooling. Indeed, it is necessary to provide the students with educational activities and teachers.
The Iraqi bishops and Christians appreciated the words of love and compassion that Imam Al Sistani pronounced when a Christian delegation headed by Patriarch Sako paid visit to him in Najaf on 9 August 2014: “We are part of you and you are a part of us. We feel pain when you are hurt and rejoice when you are happy”. These words are still engraved in their hearts and live in their conscience.
However, Iraqi Christians tend to blame other Islamic parties, whether in Iraq or outside, for their failure in condemning the ISIS horrible crimes against them. They expect the issuing of clear fatwas explicitly prohibiting the scattering of Christian blood and honor, likewise the supply of money to those criminals. They expect an intensive campaign by Al Azhar and other prominent Islamic doctrine centers during the Friday sermons in all mosques of Arab and Muslim countries. They expect intellectuals and media throughout the world, together with the heads of tribal groups and the organizations of the civil society in Iraq to express their support, including by voluntary contributions, blood donations, and advocacy activities. Solidarity may be of great help to strengthen the national identity in the Iraqi Christians and to convince them that their fate is the same as the one of their countrymen.
Any failure by the government or people in showing their good will and enthusiasm in accomplishing these duties will deteriorate the situation further, increasing the feelings of frustration and bitterness that are accompanying the Christians of Iraq in their darkest age.
At the same time, the Iraqi Christians have to resist to the temptation of migrating to Western countries, which have significantly opened their borders.
If this scenario persists (God forbid), we will be responsible for inflicting a deadly blow to the multiculturality of the Iraqi identity. All Iraq’s historical religious coexistence and tolerance will be gone forever and will be wasted. The feature and respect that Iraq obtained in the human family will be demolished. Remorse will not help after the sword will have done its killing.
It is regrettable that the 216 Iraqi Christians who took refuge in Amman, Jordan, were provided with shelter, food, water, and medical services by the local Caritas in coordination with other Jordanian co-sponsors, just pending the completion of the asylum procedures to emigrate to European countries.
A representative of the Syrian Catholic church in Jordan, Father Nour Al Qass Moussa, is currently working with the Jordanian government to facilitate the arrival of the Iraqi Christians to Jordan, expressed his disappointment at their relocation in a third country. He also criticized the US limited air strikes that were carried out only to defend and protect its short term interests in the Region of Kurdistan, and not to protect and save the Iraqi Christians.
The data of the third and last wave of Christians’ emigration from Iraq confirm the existence of a consensus among the Christian immigrants to return to Iraq even if stability will be restored, and they do not even want to settle in other Arab states due to the fragility of the security situation throughout the broader region.
The Christian curia in the Middle East predicted such a situation on the occasion of a meeting organized in Beirut last August 7th in support of the Iraqi Christians. Prior, regrets towards the Islamic and Arab world for the “shameful” crimes committed against its own people had been expressed by the Egyptian Catholic Patriarchate on 18th August 2013. Based on these statements, the main exponents of the Christian clergy in the Middle East went to Erbil on 20th August 2014. The group was headed by the Maronite Patriarch Al Rai, the Melkite Patriarch Laham, the Assyrian Catholic Yunnan, and the Assyrians Orthodox Afram II.
They were all received by Patriarch Sako to carry out an inspection tour and meet with Iraqi Christians in the Region of Kurdistan. After accomplishing their mission, the group of Christian leaders held a press conference and concluded that only a swift action by the UN Security Council can save the displaced Christians, prevent the migration flow from Iraq, and rid the country of their occupiers.
The leaders also appealed to His Holiness Pope Francis for a more influential effort in urging the international community to stop the ISIS criminals and to provide the Iraqi Christians with international protection. They also reiterated their resentment for the cold reaction from the Islamic states towards the atrocious crimes against humanity committed in Iraq, violating all God’s divine laws.
In order to overcome this crisis and to prevent other Iraqi Christians from migrating and heavy losses from occurring, all individuals, religious organizations, independent entities, ministries, government and parliamentary committees, must stand together to find an effective mechanism to sustain the displaced community and arrange joint programs to keep the bonds between the population who was forced to leave their homeland and the one inside the country. They must promote new means of dialogue and assume a leading role in bringing the Western Christians and the Eastern Muslims closer.
Our immigrant generation is capable and adequate to represent the Iraqi tradition, enriched by the mentalities and cultures of the West. This new generation, armed with knowledge and history, is entrusted with the construction of a better future in the framework of a consolidation of Christian-Islamic relations, building bridges of peace between religions.

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La petizione per i cristiani perseguitati d’Iraq arriva alle Nazioni Unite

By Aleteia

Consegnate da Aleteia oltre 300.000 firme a sostegno dei cristiani che vivono sotto la minaccia dell'Isis
.
Il 23 ottobre, a Ginevra, si è svolta la cerimonia di consegna delle firme della petizione internazionale “Salviamo i cristiani dell'Iraq”, presso le Nazioni Unite.
Durante l’incontro, Alexander Aleinikoff, Vice Alto Commissario delle Nazioni Unite per i rifugiati (UNHCR), ha sottolineato l’importanza della mobilizzazione dell’opinione pubblica di fronte alla tragedia umanitaria in Iraq.

La campagna, che ha raccolto circa 300mila firme da tutti i continenti, è promossa dal network d’informazione cattolico, Aleteia.org attraverso la piattaforma Citizengo.org.

Ha preso parte all’incontro l’arcivescovo Silvano Maria Tomasi, osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso le Nazioni Unite, che ha sottolineato l’urgenza degli aiuti ai rifugiati iracheni, in previsione delle intemperie invernali.

“La situazione attuale in Iraq è la nostra priorità”, ha risposto il Vice Alto Commissariato, ringraziando per questo sforzo di sensibilizzazione in favore di tutte le persone a rischio.

“Queste firme, rappresentano un grido di speranza e di aiuto, per le migliaia di rifugiati, affinché venga fermato questo scempio contro l’umanità stessa”, ha detto Jesus Colina, direttore editoriale di Aleteia, al momento della consegna della petizione.
In conclusione, Monsignor Tomasi, ha ribadito l’importanza che i mezzi d’informazione possono svolgere per tenere desta l’attenzione su quanto sta avvenendo in Iraq.


E’ possibile contribuire alla petizione, dall’indirizzo:
http://citizengo.org/it/9795-salviamo-i-cristiani-delliraq

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Iraq: Caritas italiana. Al via la campagna "adotta una famiglia di profughi iracheni"

By SIR

Caritas Italiana lancia una campagna di gemellaggi per l‘adozione di famiglie di profughi iracheni. L’appello di Papa Francesco per i cristiani del Medio Oriente hanno trovato riscontro anche negli incontri che una delegazione della Conferenza episcopale italiana - guidata dal segretario generale, monsignor Nunzio Galantino - ha avuto visitando la scorsa settimana i campi profughi a Erbil, nel Kurdistan iracheno.
Assieme alla riconoscenza sia per il milione di euro messo a disposizione dalla Cei per la prima emergenza sia per i 2 milioni e 300mila euro destinati alla costruzione di un’Università cattolica - entrambi stanziati dai fondi otto per mille - i vescovi locali hanno chiesto di avviare una collaborazione a più lunga scadenza.
Caritas Italiana si è così fatta promotrice di alcune proposte concrete, su cui si chiede alle famiglie, alle parrocchie e alle diocesi di convergere, per quanto sarà loro possibile. La prima (denominata “Progetto Famiglia”) riguarda la realizzazione di gemellaggi con famiglie di profughi, finalizzati ad assicurare un minimo dignitoso a una famiglia di 5 persone. Ci si può impegnare per un mese (140 euro), per un trimestre (420 euro), per un semestre (840 euro) o per un anno (1.680 euro).
La seconda proposta (“Progetto Casa”) concerne l’acquisto di 150 container per l’alloggio di altrettante famiglie. In questo caso, il costo è di 3.140 euro per unità.
Infine, la terza iniziativa (“Progetto Scuola”) riguarda l’acquisto di 6 autobus per il trasporto dei bambini in 8 scuole a Erbil e a Dahuk: ogni pullman costa 40.720 euro.

Per sostenere gli interventi, le offerte vanno inviate a

Caritas Italiana, via Aurelia 796 - 00165 Roma, tramite c/c postale n. 347013, specificando nella causale: Gemellaggi l’Iraq / Progetto Famiglia (oppure Casa oppure Scuola).
Offerte sono possibili anche tramite altri canali, tra cui:
UniCredit, via Taranto 49, Roma - Iban: IT 88 U 02008 05206 000011063119;

Banca Prossima, piazza della Libertà 13, Roma - Iban: IT 06 A 03359 01600 100000012474;

Banco Posta, viale Europa 175, Roma - Iban: IT91 P076 0103 2000 0000 0347 013;

Banca Popolare Etica, via Parigi 17, Roma - Iban: IT 29 U 05018 03200 000000011113;

on line su www.caritas.it.

 



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L'Onu lancia una raccolta fondi: 2,2 miliardi di dollari per gli sfollati da Iraq e Siria

By Asia News

Le Nazioni Unite hanno lanciato ieri una campagna per raccogliere 2,2 miliardi di dollari, da stanziare in progetti di assistenza che coinvolgeranno 5,2 milioni di persone - profughi o sfollati interni - colpite dal conflitto in Siria e Iraq. Nel corso di una visita ufficiale a Baghdad Neill Wright, coordinatore umanitario Onu per l'Iraq, sottolinea che "i bisogni della popolazione irakena sono immensi". 
Stime aggiornate delle Nazioni Unite riferiscono che vi sono almeno 1,8 milioni di sfollati in tutto il Paese, altri 1,5 milioni nelle comunità che ospitano gli sfollati e 1,7 milioni che vivono nelle aree teatro del conflitto, fuori dal controllo governativo e bisognose di aiuti. Sono almeno 2,8 milioni le persone che necessitano di assistenza alimentare e quasi 800mila quelle che "hanno bisogno urgente di cibo". 
Delle centinaia di migliaia di persone in fuga dalle ondate cicliche di violenza che hanno insanguinato l'Iraq in questo 2014, la maggior parte delle quali perpetrare dai jihadisti dello Stato islamico (SI), in molti hanno trovato rifugio nella regione autonoma del Kurdistan irakeno. In inverno nell'area le temperature possono variare da 5 fino a - 16 gradi; le Nazioni Unite hanno lanciato a più riprese l'allerta per gli sfollati, alcuni dei quali non hanno nemmeno un alloggio o un riparo per sfuggire ai rigori del freddo. 
Ai milioni di sfollati irakeni si sommano anche i 200mila rifugiati siriani, che hanno cercato riparo sul suolo irakeno, e il milione di sfollati interni a causa delle violenze dell'ultimo decennio (2003 - 2013). Un analogo appello lanciato in precedenza dall'Onu e mirato alla raccolta fondi per i profughi in Iraq e Siria non ha raggiunto (di molto) gli obiettivi fissati.

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giovedì, ottobre 23, 2014

 

Decreto del Patriarca caldeo sui sacerdoti e religiosi espatriati senza il consenso dei superiori

By Fides

“Prima di essere ordinato, il sacerdote promette di offrire tutta la sua vita a Dio e alla Chiesa: E' un’offerta che poggia sull'obbedienza ai superiori senza alcuna riserva”.
Per i monaci, poi, “i voti sono assoluti: castità, obbedienza, e povertà”. Inizia con questo deciso richiamo agli impegni connessi alla vocazione sacerdotale e religiosa, il Decreto pubblicato mercoledì 22 ottobre dal Patriarca di Babilonia dei caldei, Louis Raphael I, per rendere note le misure disciplinari prese nei confronti di alcuni sacerdoti e religiosi caldei che negli ultimi anni hanno lasciato l'Iraq senza il consenso dei superiori, chiedendo asilo in Paesi occidentali.
“Noi - si legge nel Decreto patriarcale, pervenuto all'Agenzia Fides - abbiamo esempi luminosi di preti dei nostri giorni che ci danno eloquenti lezioni di fede”.
Il Patriarca cita i sacerdoti Hana Qasha e Ragheed Ganni, e il Vescovo Paulus Faraj Rahho, uccisi negli ultimi anni, e ricorda i preti rapiti che sono rimasti nel Paese e quelli che, dopo essere stati cacciati dalle proprie case, hanno seguito i loro fedeli, condividendone la condizione di profughi. Poi, in conformità al Diritto canonico e alle regole per la vita religiosa, il Decreto sospende dalla pratica del ministero sacerdotale sei monaci e sei sacerdoti diocesani che hanno lasciato le proprie diocesi e comunità religiose in Iraq per emigrare e trasferirsi all'estero senza il consenso dei superiori, assumendo incarichi pastorali presso le comunità caldee nella diaspora.
La pubblicazione del Decreto – avverte il Patriarca Louis Raphael I – è stata preceduta dalle dovute consultazioni con il Sinodo permanente della Chiesa caldea e con la Congregazione per le Chiese orientali, e arriva dopo “numerosi e purtroppo sterili ultimatum e tentativi” messi in atto in passato dalle precedenti autorità della Chiesa e delle comunità religiose, per mettere un freno al deplorevole fenomeno, che ha causato scandalo tra i fedeli della Chiesa caldea.

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mercoledì, ottobre 22, 2014

 

Bishop: 90% of Orthodox Christians in Iraq displaced

By Al Monitor
Ghassan Rifi


Greek Orthodox Bishop for Baghdad, Kuwait and their surroundings, Ghattas Hazim, realizes that the position assigned to him by the Holy Synod of Antioch, presided over by Patriarch John X Yazigi as patron of that diocese (the area under supervision of a bishop), is not easy.

Hazim is also aware that his mission might be legendary, and requires great effort to heal the wounds of the Christians in this Arab region, especially in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. This mission started in 1991, during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and continues today under different forms. The mission is to provide suitable circumstances to secure the Christians in their land and maintain the Christian presence and, in particular, the Orthodox presence in Mesopotamia.

Hazim is from the town of Mhardeh in the countryside of Hama, in Syria, which is home to over 20,000 Christians. He is the nephew of the late Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim. He was supposed to join his new diocese before the end of this year, where Yazigi would appoint him in his position, and he would preside over the Orthodox diocese in Kuwait.
Hazim emphasized the necessity of not making the Christians in Iraq feel alone. He described the priests of the parishes there as heroes and true fighters, since they never left the Orthodox residents, but cared for them and sought to answer all their needs despite the difficult circumstances.
Hazim revealed shocking figures to As-Safir about the Orthodox presence in Iraq. He said only 30 families out of 600 remain in Baghdad; the rest were displaced following the invasion of Kuwait, and there are fewer than 10 families left in Mosul.
In Iraq’s Basra, all the Orthodox families have been displaced after members of the families were killed or threatened. Indeed, over 90% of the Orthodox Christians in Iraq have been displaced due to the security chaos which has prevailed over the country for the past generation. Hazim hopes that Erbil, in the Kurdish region of Iraq, would be a haven for Christians since it looked like a promising region due to the size of the economic and trade investment, and since it “welcomes our sons who move there from all over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon,” Hazim said.
“The Orthodox confession is recognized in the Iraqi law and constitution,” Hazim said. “Our situation there is similar to our situation in Lebanon and Syria. We have two churches, a school, which is considered one of the most prominent schools in Baghdad, in addition to a retirement home and an orphanage, a center for sports, cultural and educational activities.”
He said, “Speaking from a distance regarding the prevailing situation there is difficult. As soon as I go there and review the reality of the situation I will be able to set strategies and specify the priorities which would serve our people and parish, and help them to remain in their land.”
Hazim said, “The return of those who have been displaced back to their homes is linked to the political and security situation. We cannot urge anyone to go back now, in light of this ongoing war in different regions in Iraq.”
On the subject of whether or not the West is contributing in emptying Iraq of its Christians due to the facilities it is providing, Hazim said, “It is not true that the West is facilitating the emigration of Christians. I know many Christians and Orthodox in particular who went to embassies and did not get visas. Others resorted to the United Nations and other international organizations in order to emigrate and it did not work out.”
Hazim believes that Christians are being slaughtered in Iraq and the West does not lift a finger to protect them. What France provided was simply “out of duty.”
Hazim’s concerns are not limited to the possibility of changing the Christian presence in Iraq; they also include the fear of changing the Arab region as a whole. He said he fears for the civilization of Mesopotamia and the Euphrates, “We have a strong heritage, since before Christianity and during Christianity and Islam. This heritage is in danger and we see that through the violation of shrines and all other cultural sites. We fear for the culture of acceptance and coexistence because it is in danger as well.”
“I do not believe division is the right way of thinking, since Islam is also in danger. I do not believe that today’s campaign is against Christians alone; Islam is a divergent religion which is also threatened,” he said.
Despite all of this danger, Hazim urges against panic. “We are a main element in this region’s culture; Christians and Muslims from all confessions are threatened.”
“I will carry the word of God to my parish in Baghdad and Kuwait: Fear not, little flock, for I am with you. If they persecute you, remember that they persecuted me before you. We will not fear, because this is not the first time in history that this has happened. We will stay, as long as faith remains and as long as our God exists, we will remain present,” he said.

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Lettera di Francesco ai cristiani d'Iraq e Siria»

di Giorgio Bernardelli

Una lettera ai cristiani perseguitati dell'Iraq e della Siria. Una lettera come quelle che Paolo scriveva alle comunità nella tribolazione; lodandole per la loro testimonianza di fede, ma aggiungendo anche che «è proprio della giustizia di Dio rendere afflizione a quelli che vi affliggono» (2 Tes 1,6).
Dopo il concistoro tenuto lunedì in Vaticano, è questo il nuovo gesto che Papa Francesco si appresta a compiere per i cristiani del Medio Oriente. A confermarlo è stato il patriarca di Babilonia dei Caldei, Luis Sako, da mesi voce di questa umanità lasciata senza voce dalla violenza dei fondamentalisti islamici e dall'indifferenza del mondo. «Gli ho chiesto di scrivere un messaggio personale, una piccola lettera pastorale - ha detto in un'intervista il patriarca dei caldei - come faceva l’apostolo Paolo per le prime comunità cristiane per esortare i cristiani a perseverare».
Chissà se nella Lettera ai cristiani di Ankawa (il sobborgo di Erbil dove in migliaia sono sfollati da quest'estate) Papa Francesco userà davvero anche le ultime parole forti dell'apostolo Paolo, quelle sulla giustizia di Dio che si abbatterà un giorno su quanti affliggono i deboli. Di certo è quanto si augurano i cristiani della Siria e dell'Iraq, che ormai nella coalizione internazionale in arrivo per prendere le loro difese non ci credono più.
Mentre le cronache ci raccontano l'assedio di Kobane - con i raid aerei che non sono altro che un modo per dire che «si sta facendo qualcosa» - tra gli sfollati di Mosul sta arrivando l'inverno. Che si dà il caso in Kurdistan sia anche parecchio rigido: il termometro tocca lo zero a Erbil e sulle montagne attorno scende ancora di più. Decine di migliaia di persone si trovano tuttora ad attenderlo sotto una tenda o un riparo di fortuna. Quelli che non hanno ucciso né la violenza dei jihadisti né la fuga nel deserto sotto il sole d'estate - dunque - ora rischia di ucciderli il freddo in Iraq. Per non parlare poi dei cristiani della Siria, che stanno entrando nel loro quarto inverno consecutivo di una guerra fatta di fame, freddo e minacce.
In Kurdistan - come sempre - l'unica speranza oggi ha il volto della mobilitazione delle Chiese cristiane di tutto il mondo. Anche la Cei e molte ong cattoliche del nostro Paese sono in prima linea nella corsa a dare almeno un prefabbricato al numero maggiore possibile di profughi, prima che l'inverno arrivi sul serio. Ma il tempo a disposizione è pochissimo: già qualche giorno fa a Erbil è arrivato il primo grande nubifragio e le tendopoli si sono subito allagate con immense pozzanghere e fango ovunque.
È a questa umanità ferita che il Papa sta scrivendo. Sapendo che - oltre che a loro - c'è da parlare a chi continua a perseguire obiettivi propri sulla pelle di queste popolazioni. Tra le cose che il patriarca Sako ha detto in questi giorni c'è anche il fatto che Francesco desidererebbe andare personalmente tra gli sfollati dell'Iraq. Un desiderio probabilmente oggi irrealizzabile.
Però proprio ieri il Vaticano ha confermato il viaggio che Bergoglio compirà dal 28 al 30 novembre in Turchia. Una visita apostolica legata a una motivazione ecumenica - l'incontro con il patriarca di Costantinopoli Bartolomeo - ma che per ciò che rappresenta oggi Ankara in questo Medio Oriente insanguinato non potrà non avere anche un significato politico. Nella capitale turca il Pontefice incontrerà il presidente turco Erdogan e il premier Davutoglu, le autorità di un Paese non proprio al di sopra di ogni sospetto di ambiguità nella lotta all'Isis. E a Istanbul - come aveva già fatto papa Benedetto - anche Francesco entrerà nella Moschea Blu, luogo carico di significati importanti per l'islam sunnita. Farà già molto freddo in quei giorni ad Ankawa. E ci sarà ancora più bisogno di ascoltare parole che indichino che anche a Istanbul il Papa è loro vicino. E addita una strada perché questo incubo finisca davvero.

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Sako: «Vogliono spartire il Medio Oriente»

By Avvenire
Luca Geronico

All’indomani della fuga dei cristiani dalla Piana di Ninive Louis Sako, patriarca caldeo di Baghdad, aveva chiesto di «fare tutto il possibile per scongiurare il genocidio». Il giorno seguente, il 9 agosto, iniziavano i raid degli Usa contro l’Is, a cui si è poi unita la Coalizione. Appena finito il Concistoro, incontriamo Louis Sako a Milano, invitato dal Centro culturale di Milano e dalla Fondazione Tempi.

Patriarca Sako, due mesi dopo come giudica la risposta della comunità internazionale?Molto timida. Non c’è una decisione chiara per liberare quelle regioni dai fondamentalisti jihadisti. Con i bombardamenti non ci sarà una soluzione immediata. Obama stesso parla di tre anni: tre anni in cui l’Is rimarrà al suo posto e chi è fuggito dai villaggi dove andrà? La popolazione aspettava di tornare presto alle sue case, scuole, chiese.
Intanto la situazione umanitaria peggiora: in Kurdistan sono iniziate le piogge, l’Onu ammette di non riuscire a dare cibo e riparo a tutti. Come si è organizzata la Chiesa?C’è un comitato di quattro vescovi, tre dei quali sono loro stessi profughi: il vescovo caldeo, quello siro-cattolico e quello siro-ortodosso di Mosul e il vescovo caldeo di Erbil. Organizzano tutti gli aiuti: una azione più grande ed efficace di quella dell’Onu e delle altre agenzie che passano attraverso le autorità. La Chiesa è libera. La prima cosa che ha fatto la gente è stata di rivolgersi alla Chiesa perché ha fiducia, pensa che quella è la sua la casa. Ora si aspetta una soluzione che non c’è e perciò la sofferenza è più grande. 
Una sofferenza provocata da un «terrorismo di dimensioni prima inimmaginabili», come ha detto Francesco. Come permettere ai cristiani di rimanere? Come combattere questa folle ideologia?
Ci vuole un meccanismo da parte dei Paesi musulmani arabi per distruggere questa ideologia molto pericolosa e violenta: è un pericolo anche per loro, non solo per le minoranze. È una guerra tra sunniti e sciiti, e contro i musulmani moderati. Si deve cercare una nuova lettura positiva dell’islam basata sulla fraternità, la pace, l’ospitalità. Occorre cambiare anche i programmi nelle scuole che discriminano cristiani ed ebrei e formare gli imam perché talvolta nelle moschee ci sono provocazioni contro le altre religioni. Ci si deve basare sul criterio della cittadinanza, mentre la religione è un fatto personale, della libertà. Per questo, e per separare la religione dallo Stato, ci vuole molto tempo.
Intanto ora c’è la «responsabilità di dare risposta pronta e diversificata » all’emergenza, come ha detto il segretario della Cei, monsignor Nunzio Galantino. Quale intervento, in prospettiva, può garantire il «diritto nativo» di restare nella regione?Si deve cercare una soluzione stabile per chi è fuggito: vogliono ritornare nelle loro case, ma occorre una garanzia, per esempio con una forza internazionale anche mista. I cristiani possono entrare nell’esercito curdo per aiutare il ritorno dei profughi. Soprattutto si deve ricostruire la fiducia nei vicini che hanno saccheggiato le case abbandonate. 
Intanto si sta tamponando un’emergenza, benché la questione siriana sia esplosa da oltre tre anni. Cosa è mancato per mettere in campo una politica coerente in Medio Oriente?Dall’inizio, quando si sono formati questi Stati, non c’era un piano di cittadinanza: sono gruppi senza nessuna integrazione e istituzioni democratiche. Questi gruppi settari sono come un vulcano e c’è un piano, che si può far risalire a Kissinger e ripreso da Biden di un “nuovo Medio Oriente”, di cui l’Is fa parte: creare entità o Stati deboli per controllarli, sfruttare il petrolio e garantire la sicurezza di Israele. È ovvio. Perché cambiano i regimi? Non per creare la democrazia. Ora in Libia c’è anarchia, come in Yemen, in Siria, in Iraq. Questa strategia di un nuovo Medio Oriente si realizzerà: i conflitti sfiancheranno la popolazione e poi non ci sarà che la spartizione dell’Iraq, della Siria e degli altri. Già adesso l’Iraq geograficamente e psicologicamente è diviso: sunniti, sciiti e curdi.

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Patriarca di Baghdad ai musulmani: più coraggio per un "fronte comune” contro i terroristi

By Asia News
Dario Salvi


Per vincere la cieca violenza dello Stato islamico serve un "fronte comune" di tutto il popolo irakeno, cristiani e musulmani, anche se finora "ha prevalso la paura". A più riprese "ho chiesto di uscire per le strade e testimoniare qual è il vero islam", che l'Isis non rappresenta la religione di Maometto, "che al Nusra e al Qaeda non rappresentano" il mondo musulmano. "Noi ci crediamo, ma bisogna dirlo in modo aperto".
È quanto racconta ad AsiaNews il Patriarca caldeo Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, a Milano per un convegno dopo aver partecipato - nelle scorse settimane - ai lavori del Sinodo sulla famiglia e della parte del Concistoro dedicata ai cristiani del Medio oriente. Sua Beatitudine "crede" nel mondo musulmano, nei leader religiosi che respingono le violenze dei terroristi; tuttavia, egli aggiunge che "questa mancanza di coraggio" nello sconfessare attacchi, barbarie e brutalità dei jihadisti non aiuta. Serve un "rifiuto pubblico" forte, netto e di condanna delle violenze verso "innocenti, colpiti solo perché professano un'altra religione".


Il 17 ottobre scorso Papa Francesco ha ricevuto in udienza il patriarca di Baghdad e presidente della Conferenza episcopale irakena; al centro dell'incontro la drammatica situazione della comunità cristiana e di tutto l'Iraq, teatro delle violenze sanguinarie delle milizie dello Stato islamico, che hanno conquistato ampie porzioni di territorio, soprattutto al nord. Nel contesto della visita, il Pontefice ha promesso una "lettera di speranza" per i cristiani irakeni, che a centinaia di migliaia hanno dovuto fuggire dalle loro case e versano in condizioni "disperate" nei centri di accoglienza e alloggi temporanei.
"Abbiamo un bisogno urgente di case e alloggi - racconta Mar Sako - ne abbiamo affittati molti, ma non basta e la situazione è destinata a peggiorare con l'arrivo dell'inverno, la pioggia, la neve e il freddo... non è possibile sopravvivere così". Dallo Stato, dalle organizzazioni internazionali e dagli enti cattolici di tutto il mondo, fra cui AsiaNews con la campagna "Adotta un cristiano di Mosul", sono arrivati fondi e donazioni per i profughi. Per il Patriarca di Baghdad ora serve una testimonianza concreta di vicinanza, morale e spirituale, perché (anche) questo la gente desidera e cerca: "Siamo stati a lungo una Chiesa isolata - racconta - quindi ora servirebbero visite, esempi di vita comune. Gruppi di giovani, suore, laici, sacerdoti dell'Occidente in visita alle famiglie cristiane dell'Iraq, andare nelle case e fra le persone, questo può aiutare quanto e più del denaro".
In vista dell'Avvento e del Natale, mar Sako chiede di incontrare i profughi irakeni e "perché no, portare un panettone in ciascuna famiglia, il dolce della festa, quale segno concreto di vicinanza e di solidarietà". Fra gli sfollati regnano ancora oggi paura, disillusione, sfiducia per una guerra che - stando agli annunci del governo statunitense - potrebbe durare anni. "E con i soli bombardamenti aerei - avverte il Patriarca - non si sconfigge lo Stato islamico, ma si causano altre vittime innocenti". Da qui il desiderio crescente di molte famiglie di "andare via" e "l'atteggiamento di alcuni sacerdoti, che fomentano questo fenomeno, non aiuta ma va condannato".
Dall'Iraq, teatro anche in questi giorni di attentati e violenze che hanno causato decine di morti e feriti a Baghdad e dintorni, arrivano però anche piccoli segni di speranza. "Stiamo costruendo scuole, con materiale prefabbricato - sottolinea sua Beatitudine - quattro a Erbil e altre quattro a Dohok", nel Kurdistan irakeno. Resta però ancora irrisolto il nodo della piana di Ninive, in cui imperversano tuttora milizie jihadiste impedendo di fatto il ritorno a casa degli sfollati". Il Patriarca di Baghdad auspica tanto "una soluzione di breve periodo" per cacciare i gruppi estremisti, quanto "una strategia di lungo periodo" per combattere il fanatismo, coinvolgendo gli imam nelle moschee, gli esperti di legge musulmana, gli studiosi che "diano una nuova lettura dell'islam". I terroristi, conclude mar Sako, approfittano dell'ignoranza e invocano un jihad contro un Occidente "vuoto, privo di religione, in cui - secondo loro - il cristianesimo ha fallito e per questo va islamizzato".

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Siria. Mons. Audo: no soluzione militare, serve dialogo politico

By Radio Vaticana

Dopo l’apertura, su decisione di Ankara, del corridoio in territorio turco che consentirà ai miliziani curdi iracheni di andare in aiuto di quelli siriani, impegnati nella difesa di Kobane, è atteso un voto del parlamento regionale curdo sull'invio di peshmerga e consiglieri militari nella città. Ed è proprio il nord della Siria dove gli scontri tra miliziani curdi e jihadisti del sedicente Stato islamico sono più cruenti. Su una possibile via d’uscita a questa situazione, Giancarlo La Vella ha intervistato mons. Antoine Audo, vescovo caldeo di Aleppo e presidente di Caritas Siria:
Non c’è una soluzione militare in Siria! Si deve ricercare nuovamente una soluzione politica, si devono invitare tutti i gruppi in conflitto in Siria, insieme, ad aprire un dialogo politico. Speriamo si possa arrivare a qualcosa di nuovo che vada contro la soluzione delle armi.
Quello che spaventa, in questo momento, è anche l’atteggiamento dello Stato islamico. Un gruppo, un movimento con cui sembra non si possa dialogare…Penso che dietro a questi gruppi ci sia gente che dà i soldi, che dà armi e che hanno interessi in tutto questo. Ma quando verrà presa una decisione a livello internazionale di pace e di dialogo, questi gruppi armati non avranno più un influsso serio.
Noi monitoriamo sempre la situazione della popolazione civile, delle minoranze, quella cristiana in particolare. Qual è la situazione ora?
Forse, la situazione in Aleppo è quella più difficile di tutta la Siria, ci sono sempre bombe che cadono sulla città. C’è il problema del lavoro e la maggioranza della gente è senza soldi… Queste sono le ragioni per decidere di andare via. Per noi cristiani, questa è una grande perdita per la Chiesa, per la società, per il Paese. Questa è la domanda: facciamo tutto quello che possiamo per poter dare ragioni a questa gente per decidere di rimanere? Quando la maggioranza della popolazione diventa povera, questo è un vero problema non solo economico, umano ed anche di sicurezza. Questo problema dei cristiani di oggi ci dàuna grande tristezza: ogni giorno preghiamo, speriamo e attendiamo con pazienza  una soluzione politica di pace e di riconciliazione per tutto il Paese e per tutta la regione.

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martedì, ottobre 21, 2014

 

Chaldean Abp: a Mideast without Christians?

By Vatican Radio

A Middle East without its Christians would be like a garden without flowers: that’s what Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Thomas Meram of Urmyā, Deputy President of the Iranian Bishops Conference, says about the persecution of Christians in the region.  Jihadi militants like Islamic State (also known as ISIS or Daesh) in recent months have violently purged cities in Iraq and Syria of their Christians and other minorities.
Archbishop Meram accompanied Patriarch Louis Sako to Jordan last week. The Chaldean Patriarch was one of six Orthodox and Catholic eastern rite Church leaders from neighboring countries to attend a meeting with King Abdullah and Prince Ghazi, King Abdullah’s personal envoy and adviser for religious and cultural affairs.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Meram observes, “The king was very open and accepting of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.”  The Hashemite kingdom is hosting 1.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees – only half of whom are officially registered.

Jordanian King committed to protecting Christian identity and existence

The King expressed his solidarity with the region’s Christians, saying that said that the hatred, terrorism and fanaticism spread by extremist groups have nothing to do with the values the three monotheistic religions promote. He stressed the role of Christians in building Arab-Islamic identity throughout history and underlined Jordan's commitment to protecting the identity and existence of Arab Christians.
The Jordanian monarch has spearheaded numerous initiatives such as  the “Amman Message" and "Common Word," highlighting moderate and tolerant Islam. In September last year, he hosted another conference in Amman regarding the challenges facing Arab Christians.
During last week’s visit, Patriarch Sako appealed to Prince Ghazi to encourage peaceful and tolerant speeches in mosques.

Rethinking language and education

It is not helpful that Christians have been described as “kaafir” or infidels for the last fourteen hundred years, says Archbishop Meram. “That’s not good.”  Speaking of many in the Arab world, he adds “you have to change your teaching in the schools regarding the minorities, Christian or non-Christian – to respect the human being.”  He underscores that state must also be separate from religion. “And it’s very hard I think.  They cannot do it.Many young men are leaving their countries to fight with organizations like Islamic State or Al Nusra or Al Qaeda-linked organizations.  Where does the role of education come into play in this phenomenon?
“I think this is brain washing.  Or money.  Or as they say, for sexual relations in heaven: you will get 40 virgin women.  I can’t understand it.  How can they (do this)?  Or they are an instrument in the hands of others using them.”

The misery of refugees
Archbishop Meram says he visited Christian refugees in three camps in Jordan hosting some forty to fifty families in each camp.  Other families he says, have rented places to stay but their money won’t last forever. “It’s miserable.  There is no human dignity – it’s lost now.  It is very miserable.”
He fans his arms out across the small conference room where we are speaking – it would be barely big enough to accommodate two double beds. In Jordan, parents and five or six children are sharing the same tiny space, with a sheet drawn across the room for some semblance of privacy, he says.  Still, Jordan is doing what it can, he notes.  “Since the Iraqi-Iranian war, Jordan (has been) like this: welcoming all the refugees."
Airstrikes are not enough against militants
Archbishop Meram dismisses the international coalition’s airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq as fruitless: “I think there is no use for that. Because (the militants such as) Daesh or Isis or Al Nusra - when there are strikes- they will dress like other people, like civilians.  You (won’t) recognize them.”
He admits he does not know what the solution to the region’s ills will be:  “I don’t know what’s going on; I’m not a politician but I pray for peace.  Like our Chaldean Church in Mosul for two thousand years – there were Christians (there).  We have a history there. But now it’s completely (wiped out) – no history.  Everything is destroyed.”

A place for Christians in the Middle East of tomorrow?

At their 2010 Synod, the Bishops of the Middle East reached out to Arab leaders, stressing that Christians want to be an integral part of their societies, contributing to their development and future.  To do so, they wish to be respected as full citizens with equal rights and with the freedom to practice their faith without prejudice or restrictions.  Since then, the region has erupted with the tumultuous uprisings of the Arab Spring and the rise of a new kind of ferocious Islamic extremism.  We asked Archbishop Meram if the bishops hold out hope for an equitable and just Middle East?
“It’s hard to answer this question.  I don’t think the Arab Spring – I would say Arab Winter – there’s no Spring.  Everything is fire, killing, bombarding, from Libya to Syria to Iraq to Yemen, to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain… it’s not a spring.  It’s going back one thousand four hundred years ago (to the origins of Islam).”
“We would like to be a part of these countries.  Because we (too) are the owners of the land over there,” says the Archbishop, recalling that the Christians were native to the land thousands of years even before Jesus Christ appeared. Christians want to stay in their homes and in their land, “but if by force or by fire they will kick us out, what can you do?  Just save your life and go out.  Save your life.  But we still have hope.  We are still in the country; we will never leave the country.  But if anybody would like to leave the country, we cannot oblige him to stay.  So he can choose to stay or leave.  But the Church will be over there I hope till the end of the world.”
A Middle East without its Christians, reflects Archbishop Meram, would be like “a garden without flowers."

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Priests race to save manuscripts from jihadists in Iraq


As fighters from the Islamic State group rampage across northern Syria and Iraq, a group of priests are racing against time to save what's left of the region's Christian heritage. Dominican Order priests have already managed to get many precious artifacts and manuscripts safely to Erbil in Kurdistan.
Reports of massacres and beheadings
of Christians and other minority groups have scared thousands into fleeing the jihadists' advance. In a region regarded as the cradle of civilization, it's no surprise that the rapid advance of the militant fighters has alarmed those looking to preserve the region's heritage.
The Dominican Order [also known as the Order of Preachers] - a Roman Catholic religious order founded 800 years ago - has deep roots among Christian communities in northern Iraq. For decades, Najeeb Michaeel - an Iraqi priest belonging to the Order - has worked to collect and preserve precious manuscripts. Now with the rise of the Islamic State group, his work has become all the more important.
Laurent Lemoine is a priest in the Dominican Order involved with the work of recovering the manuscripts. He's currently based in Paris, but has been to northern Iraq to help oversee the restoration process.
We’re trying to save these cultural artifacts because in northern Iraq it seems that everything is on the road to destruction: people of course, but also our cultural heritage. The artifacts were almost destroyed several times. There’s been tension in northern Iraq since August but the situation has been bad for decades. The collection has already been moved on many occasions. It was in Karakosh – a town with a fairly large Christian population. But it was invaded by the jihadists in August, so the artifacts had to be moved to Erbil. When the priests heard that jihadists were approaching, they threw the manuscripts in a few cars and raced out of there - sometimes with only 30 minutes advance warning.
At the moment the manuscripts are in a protected zone. There isn’t an immediate threat… at least for now. But across the region, Christianity is in the process of being swept away. Mass has been celebrated in Mosul for 1,600 years. This year was the first time that there hasn’t been a Mass in all that time [The city was captured in early June by IS group fighters. On Sunday, June 15, there was no mass held in the city].
In 2015, we’ll be celebrating 800 years since the Dominican Order was founded. This collection that we’re referring to belongs to brother Najeeb – an Iraqi priest in the Dominican Order. He began the painstaking work of collecting and preserving these manuscripts towards the end of the 1980s. The collection contains various manuscripts that date from the 14th to the 19th centuries. There are extremely valuable findings that we’ve come across, such as what could be a Carolingian manuscript. This collection brings together works the likes of which we have never seen before, especially from a Western point of view. There are manuscripts that focus on the Koran, theology, spirituality, music, and grammar. 
Many of them were in a lamentable state. There is a whole complex work of restoring the manuscripts. They have to be found and collected. Then the various fragments have to be collated and put in the right order. The work is extremely delicate. Our project is to recreate the manuscripts – create facsimiles – and put together an exhibition. We’re going to display these facsimiles in the National Archives in France next May.

This article was written with FRANCE 24 journalist Andrew Hilliar

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Iraq: Fondazione AVSI, una raccolta a favore dei profughi ad Erbil

By SIR

La Fondazione Avsi lancia una raccolta fondi a sostegno dei profughi iracheni, in gran parte cristiani, che hanno trovato rifugio nell’area di Erbil, nel Kurdistan iracheno, in seguito agli scontri tra Stato Islamico e milizie curde nel nord-est dell’Iraq.
L’intervento consiste soprattutto nella fornitura di beni essenziali (tra cui coperte, materassi), cibo e supporto al pagamento degli affitti, in partnership con il Patriarcato caldeo e la Caritas irachena. La Fondazione Avsi e Caritas Iraq sono attualmente al lavoro a Erbil per venire incontro ai bisogni di molti di loro e restituire alle famiglie condizioni di vita dignitose. Da luglio a oggi sono stati distribuiti circa 7400 kit di accoglienza, che includevano soprattutto materassi, cibo, acqua e altri beni necessari alla sopravvivenza. Con l’arrivo dell’inverno, i bisogni mutano. Non servono più letti, ormai disponibili per tutti coloro che attualmente si trovano a Erbil, ma diventano necessarie coperte, vestiti e beni utili ad affrontare l’inverno, ormai alle porte, e si prevede l’invio di maggiori quantità di cibo e acqua, che rappresenta al momento la principale priorità.

Con 10 euro si può assicurare un pasto ad almeno una famiglia, con 50 fornire coperte e materasso a una famiglia, con 100 pagare l’affitto per una famiglia.

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Caldei, pronte le sanzioni contro i "chierici vaganti"

By Vatican Insider - La Stampa
Gianni valente


“L'ultimatum” è fissato per mercoledì prossimo, 22 ottobre. Entro quella data, i tanti preti e monaci della Chiesa caldea che negli ultimi tempi hanno lasciato le proprie diocesi e le proprie case religiose e si sono imboscati in qualche Paese occidentale senza consenso dei superiori dovranno concordare con i vescovi e i capi delle comunità i tempi e i modi del loro rientro alla base o dell'eventuale trasferimento in altre diocesi e comunità. Se non lo faranno, saranno sospesi dal servizio sacerdotale e vedranno annullata ogni forma di retribuzione. Le misure canoniche, annunciate già  il mese scorso dal Patriarca di Babilonia dei Caldei Louis Raphael I Sako, verranno ufficializzate con un decreto ad hoc, approvato dal Sinodo permanente della Chiesa Caldea.
La vicenda fa affiorare uno dei fattori più determinanti e meno osservati nel processo di estinzione che sembrano aver imboccato in Medio Oriente comunità con radicamento e tradizioni millenarie. Se il cristianesimo di origine apostolica sembra spegnersi nelle terre dell’antica Mesopotamia, la colpa non è solo dei tagliagole jihadisti dello Stato islamico, ma anche di chierici – preti e monaci – che sono i primi a fuggire dalle proprie terre di nascita, per “riparare” in Occidente e cercare sistemazioni comode presso le fiorenti comunità in diaspora.
Ne è convinto il Patriarca Louis Raphael I, che nelle ultime settimane, con una sequenza crescente di messaggi-denuncia, ha preso di mira i sacerdoti e i monaci che hanno lasciato senza permesso le loro diocesi in Medio Oriente, e senza esitazioni ha bollato il fenomeno come vera e propria diserzione clericale, tanto da segnalare sul sito d’informazione legato al Patriarcato anche una lista “casi” sintomatici, con i nomi e i cognomi dei novelli chierici vaganti. Sono decine i nomi di preti e monaci segnalati da Patriarca che hanno approfittato di periodi di formazione e viaggi all'estero per chiedere asilo in Usa, Canada, svezia e Australia e non tornare più. Alcuni di loro, mentendo, si sono presentati come vittime di minacce da parte dagli islamisti. E adesso, alcuni di loro sono presi a organizzare l'esodo dei rispettivi clan familiari dall'Iraq in preda all'offensiva jihadista e al riesplodere dei settarismi.
Per il Primate della Chiesa irachena quantitativamente più consistente, i monaci e i sacerdoti hanno scelto di servire Dio e i fratelli con le proprie vite. Per questo «non è giustificato da parte loro tirare in ballo difficoltà e le insicurezze» della situazione irachena per sottrarsi al loro compito pastorale e agli impegni connessi con la loro vocazione, proprio quando tanti loro confratelli «restano saldi in Iraq, a consolare e sostenere i fedeli» in questo momento tremendo.
Nelle storie dei preti e monaci caldei che approfittano del loro status per emigrare in contesti ecclesiali e mondani più ricchi e comodi si tocca con mano che gli insistiti richiami di papa Francesco ai sacerdoti affinché non si trasformino in funzionari del sacro o in “chierici di Stato”non valgono solo per la diocesi di Roma. Ma dietro alla vicenda riaffiora anche il rapporto carico di problemi e tensioni che molte Chiese d'Oriente vivono con le rispettive comunità in diaspora, spesso influenti e più dotate di mezzi anche finanziari. I sacerdoti trasmigrati in Occidente sono spesso accolti a braccia aperte dai vescovi che reggono le diocesi d'Oltremare. Negli allarmi diffusi dal Patriarca, si denunciano con nomi e cognomi le responsabilità di quei membri dell'episcopato che, infrangendo le regole canoniche e anche il fair play nei confronti dei propri colleghi, hanno accettato i “chiarici vaganti” aprendo loro anche prospettive di più alta carriera ecclesiastica.
Sono almeno vent'anni che nella Chiesa caldea (come è avvenuto anche per quella assira, per che Chiese sire e per la Chiesa copta) le comunità della diaspora sono diventate vasca di coltura una svolta “nazionalista” e identitaria. La galassia di circoli, movimenti e sigle politiche “caldee” sorti all’interno della diaspora irachena negli Usa hanno sempre condannato senza appello la linea “arabizzante” assunta dalle comunità caldee in Iraq nei decenni del regime baathista. Una scelta “mimetica” che aveva garantito a tanti cristiani iracheni spazi sia pur limitati di agibilità e sopravvivenza. I circoli identitari caldei operanti soprattutto in Nordamerica  hanno sempre gestito in chiave lobbistica rapporti e buone entrature con gli ambienti politici Usa, con buoni risultati. Dopo il crollo del regime di Saddam hanno cercato di ottenere garanzie per i cristiani nella ristrutturazione del Paese sotto tutela anglo-statunitense. Adesso, nelle convulsioni settarie che scuotono il Medio Oriente e con le operazioni di pulizia etnico-religiosa messe in atto dai jihadisti dello Stato Islamico, le comunità in diaspora calamitano nei rispettivi Paesi quel che resta delle comunità caldee presenti in Iraq, fornendo anche appoggio logistico a quanti vogliono lasciare le terre  d'origine magari per unirsi ai propri parenti già emigrati. A settembre è stata l'eparchia di San Pietro dei Caldei, con sede a San Diego, in California a raccogliere su input di funzionari dell'amministrazione Usa la liste di decine di migliaia di cristiani caldei desiderosi di lasciare l'Iraq. Gli elenchi sono stati consegnati alla Casa Bianca direttamente dal vescovo Sarhad Jammo, alla guida dell'eparchia incaricata della cura pastorale dei caldei negli Stati Uniti occidentali.

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lunedì, ottobre 20, 2014

 

Iraq: ACN helps kids go back to school

By Aid to the Church in Need
John Pontifex 


Rania and Ranin are inseparable. The twins, who have just turned 10, both enjoy school or at least they did until they were forced to flee their homes as Islamic State forces advanced. We met Rania and Ranin and their mother Thirka, in Ankawa, outside the Kurdish capital, Erbil, where they are sharing a tent with other families in the compound of St Joseph’s Chaldean Church. It was early October when we saw them and Thirka was anxious about the start of the school year, which the twins and their brother, Habib, a year older, had already missed.
It is for children such as Ranin, Rania and Habib that the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has committed €2 million for schooling projects. Under the scheme, eight schools will be built: four in Ankawa and another four in the Dohuk province in the far north of Kurdish northern Iraq.
On our very first day in northern Iraq, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil proudly took us to see the new porta-cabin Mar Yamana School (St. Mary’s School) being developed in Ankawa. The school will provide for 900 children, classes divided into morning and afternoon rotations of 450 each, and next door a clinic is being created, run by the Ankawa-based Holy Cross Sisters so any medical needs they have can quickly be dealt with. With 120,000 Christians now descended on Kurdistan, there are teachers and others in the education profession among their number willing and able to join the staff, their salaries met by the government.
Greeted with news of the schools, Rania and Ranin’s mother is immediately enthusiastic. “Thank you for offering your kind support,” she says. Thirka, who dresses in black, continues to grieve her husband, a policeman in Qaraqosh, killed five years ago attending the scene of a bomb blast. “I was just beginning to cope with life without my husband,” says Thirka, “but being forced to leave our homes has made life impossible. “To have no school for the children to go to is a disaster. If they are to have any hope for the future, school is an absolute necessity.”
Recently ACN announced 12 urgent aid packages for Iraq to help the thousands of displaced Iraqi Christians. They are to receive food, shelter, schooling and gifts for children in a concerted emergency relief programme rushed through by the Catholic charity before the onset of winter. The 4 million Euros scheme announced by ACN – one of the largest in the charity’s 67-year history – also includes pastoral support for priests and Sisters displaced by the crisis that has swept the country.

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Nowhere to Lay Their Heads: Christians in Iraq Face Uncertain Future

By Aleteia
John Burger, October 19, 2014

Tens of thousands of refugees in northern Iraq are facing a winter living in tents or unfinished concrete buildings.

Humanitarian aid organizations, local governments and NGOs are doing what they can to keep internally displaced persons warm, healthy and well-fed, but the task is huge, and some people on the ground say a humanitarian crisis looms
.“It’s very dire. It’s not going to improve very soon. Conditions are deteriorating. People are in desperate need for help, and the government of Iraq has not helped in any way,” said Joseph T. Kassab, founder and president of the US-based Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute. “Winter is really fierce in Iraq. Lot of people living in shelters or in the open.”
Kassab, whose brother is Bishop Jibrael Kassab of the Chaldean Church in Australia and New Zealand, was himself a refugee from Iraq in 1980.
It is estimated that there are 120,000 Christian refugees in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil, living in schools, churches, monasteries and parks after they were forced from their homes in Mosul and other cities of the Nineveh Plain over the summer by forces of the Islamic State group.
Natalia Prokopchuk, spokeswoman in Iraq for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, described several projects the UNHCR is working on to help internally displaced persons get through the winter, including the distribution of blankets and kerosene stoves. "We are also working to winterize tents where people are living, providing insulation to protect them from rain and snow and put insulation on the floors,” she said.
But limited resources permit the agency to help only half of the IDPs. Also assisting, whether by building shelters or providing medical care or funding are several Catholic agencies: Aid to the Church in Need, Caritas, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the Knights of Columbus, and Malteser International—as well as Iraqi-American organizations such as the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. Juliana Taimoorazy, the Relief Council's founder and president, said her organization is appealing to American companies to donate much needed pharmaceuticals and hygiene products for IDPs.
Because of a shortage of medicines, somepeople are dying of heart disease and diabetes, saidTaimoorazy, an Assyrian Christian who found asylum in the West in the 1980s.
Malteser International, the Order of Malta's relief agency, is setting up a primary health center in one of two UNHCR camps being built between Dohuk and Zakho, in the north of the region, where winter temperatures can drop to 5 degrees. "I was in Dohuk the other day and saw families living in buildings that are still under construction, without walls," said Malteser's emergency coordinator, Leigh Ryan, who just returned from two months in the region. 
However the IDPs survive the winter, though, a question still remains in the minds of many refugees and those assisting them: “Do Christians have a future in Iraq?”
“They are really traumatized. I never experienced a people so depressed,” said Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Asia-Africa Department for Aid to the Church in Need, who visited Erbil recently. “They say, ‘There’s no future for Christians here. This is the end. We are not going to survive.’”
Aid to the Church in Need is building a village for some 4,000 refugees to shelter for the winter and supporting the construction of eight schools in Erbil and Dohuk.
Even if the international coalition led by the United States defeats the Islamic State group, Christian refugees say they are reluctant to go back to the homes they fled, according to Father Halemba and others interviewed for this article. Christians, whose numbers have been steadily decreasing over the past 30 years, feel betrayed by the central government in Baghdad, by the Kurdish peshmerga militia, which failed to protect their towns from the Islamic State’s onslaught, in spite of their assurances to the Christian residents, and by their former neighbors, who in many cases stole the property they had abandoned.
“In many cases, they were the first to go to their properties and steal from them,” said Father Halemba. “Now they have only one thought—to go away: ‘We’re not going back. If we were betrayed three times, how can we trust? How can we build a future?’”
International religious freedom activist Nina Shea agreed that Christians in Iraq feel vulnerable. Commenting last week on the kidnapping and subsequent release of a Franciscan priest in Syria, she said, “Lay Christians have been kidnapped by the thousands, both in Iraq and Syria because they don’t have any protection—neither militias nor tribal networks nor the protection of their governments or any foreign power. So there are only positive consequences for kidnapping Christians—taking ransom money if they can get it.”
Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a former member of the U.S. Commisssion on International Religious Freedom, said that the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, which has been home to Christians for almost 2000 years, is “effectively religiously cleansed for years to come. I don’t see how Christians can return without protection, and there is no protection for them. They will leave for another country. The international Church really needs to be serious about a resettlement plan for them, whether it’s somewhere in the region or somewhere in the West, because they cannot return home.”
Father Halemba reports that 10 or so Christian families are emigrating from Iraq daily—a small number, perhaps, but not so small when seen in the light of a drastic reduction from some 1.5 million Christians in Iraq in 2003 to about 400,000 today.
A meeting of cardinals at the Vatican on Oct. 20 will include a discussion of the situation facing Christians in the Middle East.
Kassab noted that the the Church in the Middle East is “calling for our people to stay, and we agree. But how?” He would like to see more visas available in Western countries for refugees, especially those who want to reunite with their families in the diaspora.
Said Shea, “We’re at the point where we need to make a decision of whether we want to put a massive aid effort into Kurdistan for them to weather the winter, or to put the resources instead into resettling them in a third country."

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia's English edition.

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Winter is coming – the other terror stalking Iraqi Kurds


The heroic Kurdish resistance in Kobane rightly commands headlines. A larger disaster, however, looms in Iraqi Kurdistan where – absent urgent action by the UN and Iraq – thousands of vulnerable people who fled from the Islamic State (Isis) could die in weeks from cold-related illnesses.
It was comfortably warm in the Kurdish capital of Erbil last week, but in December temperatures will drop to below zero in the cities and much lower in the mountains. The warmth made the makeshift camp I visited in the Christian enclave of Ankawa look almost bearable. It occupies a public park and houses 50 families, mainly Christians from Mosul, in increasingly threadbare tents. Soon, torrential rain can be expected to turn the hard ground here into a muddy lake, soaking everything and reducing hygiene. The cold will exacerbate this but there are few heavy blankets around – one per family, in another sprawling camp outside Erbil.
Kurdistan is home to roughly 250,000 Syrian refugees, with more now coming from Kobane, and roughly 800,000 internally displaced people from Arab Iraq. Most arrived after the fall of Mosul in June with only the clothes on their backs. The current pace of camp-building means that about 170,000 people will lack shelter when winter calls.
Shelter, food, sanitation and health fall to three forces: the international community – donor countries, NGOs and the UN; the federal government in Baghdad; and the regional government in Erbil.
The UN is held in cold contempt here, as clunky, flat-footed and abominably led. That’s how polite observers put it, anyway. The UN official in charge of humanitarian affairs has just left and will not be replaced for a fortnight. I hear of unwieldy meetings in Erbil where 40 representatives of UN agencies – some of no relevance – all have their say in seeking consensus, when the priority should be making decisions.
Baghdad is present through Skype, but contributes little. Iraq is nominally a rich nation, although there is talk of an unexplained deficit of many billions. I understand that Iraqi Arabs in Kurdistan have not received ration entitlements.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has his work cut out. He must overcome the poisonous legacy of his predecessor, defend Baghdad, reconstruct the pathetic shell of the Iraq Army, and reach out to Sunnis who preferred Isis to the federal government.
Kurdistan has itself not yet received its budget entitlements from Baghdad and employees on the public payroll – most workers – have not been paid for months. Investment projects are stalled and the economy is tanking. The dramatic fall in oil prices will wreck Iraqi budgets.
Foreign workers are thin on the ground, business class seats on my flights were mostly vacant and hotels and bars are emptier than normal. The usually active cranes are still, but one accidental benefit is that empty construction sites could be requisitioned as safe and temporary accommodation.
The Archbishop of Erbil told me of Christian fund-raising from as far afield as Detroit to supply caravans for families, which can be fabricated locally. Money is best, rather than goods that can be bought locally without huge transport costs and delays.
It is likely that these temporary camps will last many years, until Isis is defeated and there is a settlement in Syria, without Bashar Assad. The well equipped Isis army, bigger than Kuwait’s, is outwardly medieval but combines the sophisticated use of the social media and spectacle to scare, as well as a lethal combination of Kamikaze and Blitzkrieg to maintain momentum. The Kurds need heavy weapons to defend themselves and a deal with Baghdad to go on the offensive against Isis.
Arab Iraqis cannot return until hundreds of battle-damaged and dangerous villages are made safe. After slaughtering anyone left, Isis retreats, having seeded nests of booby traps that, even if the expertise were to hand, take ages to destroy.
The danger of old people and babies dropping like flies in the camps seems distant but will come suddenly. The UN and Iraq need to get a grip, work with the Kurds, and help those who have already lost everything and now face needless death in the Kurdish winter.

Gary Kent was recently in the Kurdistan Region for the 17th time since 2006 as a director of the European Technology and Training Centre in Erbil. He is also the Director of the All-Party Parliamentary group on the
Kurdistan Region.
He writes in a personal capacity.

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