martedì, giugno 25, 2013

 

Iraq: ACN helping the local churches in their apostolic work and improving the lot of Christians


The Christians in Iraq have little left but hope – hope for an end one day to the madness in their country. Anyone who can leave does so. Those who remain live in a state of emergency. Most are already morning the loss of murdered family members or clinging to the hope that vanished friends will return. Some have already been martyred, like the two priests murdered in October 2010 in the Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been helping the local churches in Iraq with their apostolic work for many years . Below are just some examples of the projects funded by ACN

Food parcels for refugees in Zakho, Kurdistan
In Kurdistan, in Zakho on the frontier with Turkey, Chaldean Catholic sisters are handing out food parcels to refugee families. Most of the 3,500 faithful of this community are refugees.
Here in their new home they have no work, the children are having difficulties in school, since they do not know the Kurdish language, in which the teaching is given. The Kurdish government is supporting each family with a monthly assistance of between 80 and 100 US dollars, according to the number of children. But this amount is scarcely enough to live on. Some 750 families are facing particular hardship, since they have none of their own savings left hand they are now living in dire poverty.
For these families in particular ACN has launched a fundraising campaign to help them in their plight. The money is being sent to the Chaldean sisters, who prepare the food parcels with such basic foodstuffs as flour, milk powder, writes, salt and sugar and distribute them at Christmas and again at Easter.
"We prepare the food baskets, which we then distribute to the families with the help of our young helpers and which contain not only foodstuffs but also the love and thoughtfulness of the benefactors", the sisters write.
Up till now some €180,000 have been donated and distributed in the form of these food parcels. It may be no more than a drop in the ocean, and yet it is vital to the families concerned. The sisters in a note to ACN benefactors wrote "Thank you very much for your willingness to help our suffering families in these difficult times. Your latest donation of €25,000 has helped more than 700 families in Zakho and the surrounding villages ... Everyone was overjoyed to receive the parcels."

Support for the Bible Institute in Mosul
Everyday life is not easy in a country marked by unrest and "unfavourable circumstances", as Father Pios Affas writes, with gentle understatement. He is director of the Bible Institute in Mosul, one of the few public institutions that has not yet been closed down.
Bible studies are very popular among young Christians. Since the institute was founded in 1999, some 403 students have completed the four-year course of studies there. And many continue to keep in contact with the institute, years after obtaining their diplomas. "One former student has now even returned as a lecturer", Father Affas informed ACN. The number of students continues to grow. For 2013 some 45 people have enrolled – "more than ever before", he noted, rejoicing.
In various events the older students present the studies and publications of the Institute to others. Every year some of their own work is printed, for example interpretative studies in Holy Scripture. Father Affas has asked ACN for financial support to print these books, and also for photocopying, textbooks and the transport costs of students. ACN has promised a grant of 7,500 Euros.

A car for pastoral work in Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk
Every day in Iraq brings new uncertainties. And yet there are courageous religious who are staying on in order to spiritually strengthen and support the people.
Father Jens Petzold came to Iraq in 2011 at the request of Archbishop Sako, and he now ministers, together with two fellow religious brothers, to a Catholic community in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan. The three of them belong to the Al-Khalil monastic community, which was founded in 1991 by the Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio in Deir Mar Musa (Syria). They live according to the Benedictine Rule of Ora et labora – complemented by their special charism, namely the Arab virtues of hospitality and dialogue. They are particularly committed to good relations between Catholic and Orthodox Christians and between Christians and Muslims. Often visitors come, to share their monastic life for a few weeks. "There is the ten-minute tourist", they write, "the diplomat who has become a friend,many Muslim families from Nebek and the region, sport and cultural clubs, all kinds of Church groups, people who come to us for spiritual exercises and those who stay with us for a few months in order to seek their way in the Lord".
The outbreak of war in Syria has not spared their monastery in the Syrian mountains. "The war is blocking every activity", writes Father Jens. Father Paolo has been expelled from the country. Some of their fellow brothers, and religious sisters should long since have come here to stay with Father Jens in Sulaymaniyah, but they are still stuck in Syria, in a "precarious security situation". The region surrounding the Syrian monastery has since ancient times been a region of smugglers, says Father Jens. "Some of the villages live to a considerable extent from crime. Normally they keep out of wars and religious disputes, but still profit from the general insecurity… More and more people are being kidnapped in order to extort ransom money."
In fact the monastery in Deir Mar Musa is increasingly plagued by robbers. "They have already stolen our herd of goats, our tractor and our compressor, and they have also threatened the shepherds. This is a bitter blow, for we have painstakingly built up this herd over the past 20 years, together with a dairy, in order to try out an alternative to the traditionally rooted methods of land use."
In order to prevent further attacks on individuals or institutions, the community has now made contact with influential families in the region.
Meanwhile, in Sulaymaniyah Father Jens and his confreres have established a permanent residence. Only recently they were able to add to it an apartment for religious sisters of the community and for female guests, together with additional rooms and an office. They regularly welcome guests, for whom they offer spiritual exercises. Above all they maintain good relations with their Muslim neighbours.
The Christians in Sulaymaniyah feel comparatively safe. "They see no need to protect themselves from one another. This is a very positive sign, but it also creates problems for our activities", writes Father Jens. Since the faithful work until late in the evening, the community meetings and Eucharistic celebrations are not held until after sunset. However, by then there is no public transport running either. Some of the faithful have no cars and would have to walk home, a distance that can be as much as 6 miles (10 km). The brothers would be happy to drive them home – and at the same time a car would enable them to make excursions in the region around the town. ACN will assist the community to purchase a car and in this way help them to build up the new community in Sulaymaniyah

A course for catechists in Erbil
The Christians in Iraq are an example to the rest of the world. Despite the obvious dangers, even after the official end of the war, and especially since the attacks on their fellow Christians in Baghdad, they are staying on courageously in the country. This alone is an act of heroism; hence it is all the more important for them to be spiritually accompanied by priests and soundly trained catechists.
"Despite the difficult life that Catholics have here, we can see that many young people are happy to give service in the Church… We are very grateful for this and are hoping that our catechism programmes will continue to strengthen the community", writes Archbishop Warda from Erbil.
The archbishop would like to provide a course of study for 125 catechists aged between 18 and 35. They come from all the Catholic dioceses and are willing to undergo a challenging programme of studies. The day begins at 7 am with Holy Mass and Morning Prayer and ends at 8 pm. First of all the catechists familiarise themselves with the Papal writings on the Year of Faith, then, in a series of modules, they tackle didactics and the content of the catechesis. The week is a time marked by prayer and exchange.
For Father Halemba, who heads ACN's regional desk responsible for Iraq, the training of catechists is essential – and above all now, in the Year of Faith, and in the oppressive situation that Iraqis face daily, the Christians there need every kind of spiritual support. When these catechists return once more to their home parishes they can not only pass on to others what they have learned, but also bring with them the strength of faith and the sense of community that they have experienced in Erbil.

Help for the victims of the attacks on the cathedral in Baghdad
This was one of the worst outrages against the Christian community in Iraq. Seven armed men, fitted with explosive belts, stormed the Syrian Catholic cathedral of Sayidat-al-Nejat in Baghdad, while Holy Mass was being celebrated, and shot the two priests, followed by many of the faithful. When the police arrived, the terrorists blew themselves up, killing many more of the faithful as they did so. Many women have lost their husbands, children their parents and husbands their wives.
Immediately after the attack, ACN received a message from the local bishop, Archbishop emeritus Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka. "No doubt you know about the terrible situation that has overtaken us", he said. "On Sunday, 31 October 2010 our cathedral was attacked by terrorists. Two young priests and over 50 of the faithful were killed; over 60 others were wounded, among them a third priest." The two murdered priests were Father Wasim Sabieh and Father Thaier Saad Abdal. They were both highly regarded in the parish and seen as fearless and courageous men. Speaking to a German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Father Thaier had said, "As Christians who seek to imitate Christ, we always have hope, and we pass this hope on to our children. If we had no hope left, how could we expect our children to have any?"
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Islamic extremist group the 'Islamic State of Iraq'. Archbishop Matoka appealed to ACN for help, on behalf of the families of the victims of this outrage. ACN assisted with a grant to provide pastoral and material help to the families and dependants of the victims of this terrible attack.

Books and travel costs for pupils in Ankawa
It is Friday, outside the catechetical centre in Ankawa. A bus pulls up, and a crowd of children and young people pour out. They have come to the catechism classes. Altogether around 1,360 children and adolescents, and adults too, from the three parishes in Ankawa take part in these catechetical sessions. They study with the help of a 12-volume course which Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil describes as an "exceptional introduction to Catholic education". On each level, with the help of interactive study methods, "the students learn more and more about the history and teachings of the Catholic Church, her prayers, sacraments and different forms of vocation", wrote the Archbishop. Both catechists and pupils are thereby led into a relationship with the Church. With the help of charades, sketches, songs, essays and discussions they learn all the important details about the Catholic Faith and the Catholic Church.
These catechetical courses are no mere mindless rote-learning of formal Church teachings, but rather an entertaining way for children and young people to meet with their peers and come to grips in a creative way with their faith. While the younger pupils learn above all about the life of Jesus, in pictures and discussions, and compare what they have learnt with what they experience in their daily Christian lives, the older pupils discuss their own personal responses to Church teaching and their own responsibilities within society.
There are around 6,000 Catholic families living in Ankawa. In the last few months hundreds more families, who have fled from the continuing acts of violence against Christians in Baghdad and Mosul, have joined them here. In all three parishes there is a lack of books for two of the centres. At the same time the bus that transports the young people from the surrounding villages to the catechism classes has to be paid for. ACN has been able to cover the costs of the transport for 10 months, and also that of additional books. "Our many thanks to all the benefactors for your support. May God bless you and your mission", wrote Archbishop Warda gratefully.

Young people and seminarians at the World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid
The young people in particular need our material and spiritual support, for it is with them that the future of the country lies. They are the ones who can potentially lead their homeland to a better future in the coming decades. Yet they themselves are living in an environment that makes it impossible to fulfill any such hopes. One way to help them out of their isolation and inspire a new sense of hope and purpose is to their participation in the World Youth Days of the Catholic Church.
Father Saad Sirop Hanna was able to take a group of young Iraqis to the World Youth Day in the Spanish capital, Madrid. Needless to say, these young people could not possibly have paid the full cost by themselves, and so ACN stepped in, at the request of Father Hanna, to help out. In this way, 67 young people – members of the Chaldean, Latin, Syrian and Armenian Catholic communities in Baghdad – were able to participate. All of them, Father Hanna told ACN, had "lived and suffered through the terrible and critical years of the war".
He was proud of the fact that this was the first time for 10 years that young people from Iraq were able to travel to the World Youth Day. Ahead of their trip to Spain, he wrote: "The chance to meet the Holy Father and to pray with the world's youth will strengthen their faith and give them the hope and courage to stay on in their country and bring new life to the Church in Iraq." Handwriting again after the visit, he confirms that the encounter with Pope Benedict XVI and other like-minded young people has been "a great grace" and has deepened their "love for Christ and his Church".
A group of seminarians from Mosul were also able to attend the World Youth Day. Archbishop Casmoussa was immensely grateful for this support. "Such a pilgrimage is the dream of a lifetime", he said, adding that the stay in Madrid has brought great joy to these seminarians, who "are training for the priesthood in such bloody and perilous conditions in Iraq". The opportunity to meet with other seminarians and committed young people has strengthened them in their vocation. And he concluded with words that have a continuing relevance for us all: "I thank you for every contribution you make, and above all for your sympathy and prayers."

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