"La situazione sta peggiorando. Gridate con noi che i diritti umani sono calpestati da persone che parlano in nome di Dio ma che non sanno nulla di Lui che è Amore, mentre loro agiscono spinti dal rancore e dall'odio.
Gridate: Oh! Signore, abbi misericordia dell'Uomo."

Mons. Shleimun Warduni
Baghdad, 19 luglio 2014

22 dicembre 2017

Buon Natale e Buon Anno Nuovo

Edo Bri'cho o Rish d'Shato Brich'to

عيد ميلاد سعيد وسنة ميلادية مباركة

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo

Feliz Natal e Feliz Ano Novo

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année

Fröhliche Weihnachten und Gutes Neues Jahr

God Jul och Gott Nytt År

By Baghdadhope*

Genocide survivors celebrate Christmas

By The Whig
Geoffrey Johnston

When ISIS arose in 2014, the jihadist force swept across northern Iraq and carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign of Christian villages as part of a broader genocidal plan to wipe out all religious and ethnic minorities.
Approximately 100,000 displaced Christians found refuge in the Kurdish-controlled population centre of Erbil, said Philipp Ozores, international secretary general of Aid to the Church in Need. ACN, a papal humanitarian agency, closely monitors the situation on the ground, including the number of Christians who are still classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq.
After years of fighting, Iraqi, Kurdish and international forces have finally defeated ISIS in Iraq, driving them off the Nineveh Plain, the traditional homeland of ethnic Assyrians and other ancient Christian communities in the north.
This Christmas season, tens of thousands of displaced Christians are returning to their recently liberated villages for the first time in more than three years.
“The situation is hopeful in spite of tensions, which are still there in the region currently between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi central government,” said the leader of Aid to the Church in Need, which serves persecuted and vulnerable Christians around the globe. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) has a permanent presence in Iraq.
“In spite of this tension, Christians are now already returning from Erbil, the regional capital Kurdistan, where they have been living since ISIS expelled them,” Ozores said in a telephone interview from ACN’s Montreal offices.
Ewelina Ochab, a legal researcher and genocide expert, is cautiously optimistic this Christmas season. “I do believe that many Christians will celebrate Christmas in the Nineveh Plain with more and more hope for the future,” said Ochab, author of the 2016 book Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East.
Ochab has been to Iraq to collect evidence of genocide and interview survivors. For example, she met with displaced Christians in Erbil. She also visited a number of liberated towns and villages that had previously been under ISIS occupation, including Quaragosh, Karamless and Bartallah.
“There is definitely more hope than last year this time,” she said.

Home for Christmas
According to International Christian Response (ICR), Assyrians and other Christians have been returning to their villages since before the Kurds held a referendum on independence in September. “Regional politics have weighed heavily against Christians, and other minority populations,” said an official with International Christian Response (IRC) who is on the ground in Iraq. For reasons of personal security, the ICR official cannot be named.
“Most of the 18,500 refugees ICR deals with directly were helped back to their hometowns in or around Mosul,” said Karen Ellis, who is also with ICR, serving as the organization’s ambassador.
ICR is a humanitarian organization that provides spiritual and material support to Christians in places where traditional missionaries cannot go. According to Ellis, “ICR helped significant numbers of Christian families when they first fled the Nineveh Plain,” providing life-saving assistance to IDPs living in harsh outdoor mountain camps.
More recently, clashes between the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga on the Nineveh Plain disrupted the organization’s plan to distribute aid to the returning Christians. Many of the IDPs reportedly had to flee again to Kurdistan when the fighting broke out.
“When Christians went back to the Christian villages after the [Kurdish independence] referendum, we promised to help them resettle in Nineveh Plain,” Ellis said. “Over the next two weeks, ICR will distribute food to as many of these areas as possible.”
According to Ozores, approximately 29,000 Christians have already returned to their villages in northern Iraq. “So this is great news,” he said, adding that 70,000 Christians IDPs remain at Erbil for now. Displaced Christians are also currently living in other northern population centres, such as Dohuk.
“The level of destruction is very varied in the villages on the Nineveh Plain,” Ozores said of what ACN found during inspections of liberated Christian areas. “We could see that almost 30,000 houses have been damaged in one or another way.”
The inspections revealed that 8,200 Christian homes had sustained only light damage. “So it means that these houses can be made livable again for a relatively low amount of funding,” said Ozores, who visited the Nineveh Plain earlier this year. And he hopes that all 100,000 Christian IDPs will eventually return to their homes.

Did ISIS booby trap Christian homes before they withdrew from the region?
“I only heard of booby traps in very few villages,” Ozores answered. For example, he did not see any in Khatarah when he visited the Christian town. However, some of the homes had been destroyed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and ISIS explosives.
However, it was a different story in the abandoned Assyrian city of Batnaya in northern Iraq. “I could see the booby traps myself,” Ozores recalled.
“The bigger problem was the mining of the fields around the villages in some areas, especially in the north between the battle lines of the Peshmerga Kurdish Army and the ISIS [fighters],” he said. The mines prevent returning farmers from working in their fields.
Fortunately, Ozores said, “there are now international teams clearing the fields of mines.”

A safe Christmas?
Will Christians be safe in Iraq this Christmas?
“I don’t think safety now is the biggest issue for them,” Ozores said of the victims of ethnic cleansing. “They have been living in a state of extreme crisis in the last three years.”
In some villages, there are hard feelings between Christians and Muslims. “In one or two smaller villages,” Ozores said, “there are some tensions, which is unsurprising after what has happened in the last years.”
According to Ozores, ISIS is “not in the picture” anymore in the villages on the Nineveh Plain. “No one is afraid of ISIS anymore.”
However, the ACN secretary general acknowledged that “the Christians will also be taking some kind of security measures” to protect churches and worshippers at Christmas services.
“This Christmas won’t be different from all other Christmas years,” said Monica Ratra of the Canadian branch of Open Doors, an NGO that serves persecuted Christians around the world. “There always exists the risk of terror attacks, especially in Baghdad. But that could also happen on any other time of the year.”
“Christians most definitely do not feel safe; there is too much uncertainty,” the unnamed ICR official in Iraq asserts. “Right now the region is quiet, men have returned as well as some families, but those who have returned are very uncertain.”
In the northern city of Mosul, the situation “is not really safe,” the ICR official contends. “Sunni Arabs have switched to civilian clothes to infiltrate places without being detected, and there is much mistrust from the Shia Iraqi army toward the Sunni.”
Ochab agrees that “safety continues to be an issue” in northern Iraq. “The region is still fragile and there is still no sustainable solution to address the security needs,” she said.
“Over the last months and post-referendum, yet another issue came to light: the conflict between the Iraq and Kurdistan over the disputed territories [including the Nineveh Plain],” Ochab explained. “The conflict was exacerbated by the recent referendum that supported the independence of the KRG.
“The conflict escalated to the point that a few weeks ago, Christians had to flee from Teleskof out of fear of being injured or worse,” Ochab said of clashes between Iraqi and Kurdish forces. “A number of civilians got injured. This is unacceptable. The people in Nineveh Plain have suffered enough.”

Will this be a joyous or uncertain Christmas for Iraqi Christians?
“There is more hope for Christians in Iraq now than ever before in the last three years,” Ochab answered. However, she added that post-war reconstruction and security issues must be addressed.
Moreover, Ochab stated that “interfaith dialogue and community reconciliation is not being discussed yet, but is a crucial step to ensure that Iraqi Christians feel like a part of the Iraqi community.”
In addition, the genocide researcher said that “legal steps are yet to be taken, both to ensure that the Daesh fighters are brought to justice, but also to ensure that the rights of Iraqi Christians — a minority group — are adequately protected under the law and fully enforced.”

Reconstruction and the future
Ozores said that it has been heartening to see the international Catholic community “rallying around the cause of the plight of the Christians in the Middle East.” And he said that the suffering of Iraqi Christians has “woken up many Christians around the world.”
However, International Christian Response offers a more sobering view of the situation in Iraq.
According to ICR’s Karen Ellis, many of the Christians feel forsaken by the international community.
“They feel the abandonment most tangibly in terms of financial support, but the need is so much greater than food and Christmas celebration … they need desperately to rebuild. People are persevering, but they can only hold on for so long,” Ellis said of Iraq’s long-suffering Christian communities. “While there may be spiritual growth in the region in spite of the hardship, we must pray that there will be relief from unrest in the region, as well as true justice and mercy.”
Although there is no census data for Iraq, it is estimated that there were approximately 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country unleashed many waves of anti-Christian violence.
As bad as the situation was after the ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the plight of Christians worsened greatly with the rise of ISIS in 2014.
According to ACN’s Ozores, there are only between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians left in Iraq. “Definitely, there is a very significant reduction” from 2003, he said.

Do Christians have a future in Iraq? Or will this be one of the last Christmases they celebrate in the Muslim-majority country?
“Christians will definitely have a future in Iraq,” Ozores replied without hesitation. “The most critical point has passed. And we have a much reduced but significant base of Christians there.
“These people want to stay, and they have shown determination. And they will receive a means to do so,” continued the ACN boss, noting that the needs of the Christian population are being met in the short run. “And then from there, no one can tell what will happen in five or 10 years.”
Ozores pointed out that many Iraqi Christians are professionals “who are important for the Iraqi economy.”
“No one knows at this point if the majority of Christians will stay in the region. It is difficult to say and hope is still infused with uncertainty,” the ICR official of Iraq’s ancient Christian population said.
“The reconstruction of the many parts of the Nineveh Plains is ongoing,” Ochab said. “For example, in Quaragosh, one of the biggest Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, over 1,000 houses have been refurbished and released to their rightful owners. Another 600 are being refurbished at the moment.
“The reconstruction is generously funded by organizations like Aid to the Church in Need or the Knights of Columbus.”
According to Monica Ratra, Christians still have a future in Iraq. She stated that the Open Doors organization is also supporting Iraq’s remaining Christians. For example, the NGO is doing its part by restoring houses in the Nineveh Plain and through “income generating projects, micro loans etc.”

Joy and uncertainty
Will this be a joyous or uncertain Christmas for Iraqi Christians?
“For those who returned back home, it is indeed a joyous Christmas,” the Open Doors Canada spokesperson said.
“On the other hand, it is a time of uncertainly for Christians, too, especially those in the Nineveh Plain, as so much needs to be done,” Ratra said. “Schools are slowly starting with students coming back. As more teachers return, classes can begin full swing. Other businesses are slowly becoming operational. Life is just starting afresh.
“There are varying levels of trauma, discouragement and hope among every population during the holidays,” the ICR official in Iraq said.
“It will definitely be both,” Ozores said of Christians’ mixed emotions this Christmas. “Uncertain, because the future is not 100 per cent sure for the whole area,” he said of the tension between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi central government.
“On the other hand, it’s a big moment of joy, because after three years, surviving in camps, and with brutal terrorists hiding in their homes, now they are able to return again. They are already seeing aid coming in,” he said.
“Uncertainty, of course, is still there. We should not be naive; they are not. But they are very hopeful.”

Iran’s Inroads into Christian Iraq

By The American Interest
Yousif  Kalian

n the past few weeks, Iraqi federal forces and the militias who fight under the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) umbrella have taken back most of the disputed territory that the Kurdistan Region had hoped to incorporate into a future state. These disputed territories include the Nineveh Plains area, the heartland of Christianity in Iraq and a multiethnic series of farming villages bordering the city of Mosul. The forces crossed the Ba’ashiqa line and reached the town of Teleskuf, where Peshmerga forces began to fire on the advancing Iraqi forces. Hundreds of Christians who had recently moved back to the town rebuilt by the Hungarian government had to flee the crossfire with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Speedy intervention by the United States prevented the clashes from turning into a full-scale battle.

Yousif Kalian is researcher who focuses on Iraq, Syria, Kurdish issues, and religious minorities. He currently works for In Defense of Christians and has been published in The American Interest, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, and elsewhere.

Chaldean archbishop: Iraqi Christians fear another wave of persecution

By Catholic News Service
Michael Kelly

A Chaldean Catholic archbishop from southern Iraq has warned that the country’s beleaguered Christian community still feels pessimistic about the future, despite the recent announcement by the government that troops have defeated Islamic State.
Archbishop Habib Al Nawfali of Basra told Catholic News Service: “The daily practice of robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of Christians is ongoing. Therefore, they are pondering what will be next. We are afraid of another wave of persecution that will be the end of Christians.”
The archbishop, who spoke on the fringes of a meeting on intercultural dialogue sponsored by the European Parliament in early December, said politicians in the West should lobby the Iraqi government to ensure that the Christian minority is protected.
He said that he believed up to 1 million Christians have fled the country since the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. He described the exodus of Christians from their ancient homeland as a “disaster.”

Basra is home to some 2 million Iraqis, and he said Christians’ experience with the Islamic community is mixed. He said most Muslims in the city are “moderate and they don’t care for religious fanaticism. They treat us Christians equally with dignity and respect.”

However, he said: “There are fanatics who say loudly in the mosques that we are blasphemers, we are the sons of pigs and monkeys. They don’t feel shy in saying that.”

The archbishop said the reasons why Christians remain targets are often complex. “Sometimes it’s about political or economic gain … they find that Christians are higher educated, have properties, or, for example, work as doctors in hospitals or other senior positions, so they attack them to get money.”

He also said Chaldean Catholics, who worship in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke, “are afraid that this language will disappear in the next generation because our community is now distributed everywhere.” He said there are currently Chaldean communities in 64 countries, and many of them are now worshipping in the local language rather than their mother tongue.
Describing what has happened the Christians in the country as “genocide,” he said the international community should make it a priority to protest the rights of the native people of Iraq, including the Christians.

“We need support politically from Western leaders, and Christian villages need help economically to open workshops to provide employment or for the reconstruction of houses,”
the archbishop said.

Asked about preparations for Christmas, the archbishop said that the 400 or so families who remain in his congregation are “people of deep hope and immense faith.” Describing how he has received numerous death threats during his ministry, he said, “I trust in God, the Chaldean people continue to trust in God — our faith is deeply rooted, we have been here for almost 2,000 years. That’s a long time.

“We have only the Spirit of Jesus with us. We have a strong faith; people lose everything but they stay Christian, thank God for that,”
he said.

Natale fra i profughi di Mosul: dove la fede in Cristo ha vinto la follia dell’Isis

By Asia News

Il ringraziamento alla Chiesa locale, che “ci ha fatto sentire a casa”; la forza della fede, che “rimane, mente l’Isis se n’è andato”; e ancora, un invito ai cristiani irakeni fuggiti dal Paese, perché tornino per “collaborare tutti assieme alla ricostruzione” del Paese. Sono solo alcuni passaggi, di una lunga intervista realizzata da AsiaNews a due famiglie di profughi cristiani di Mosul, fuggiti nell’estate del 2014 in concomitanza con l’ascesa dello Stato islamico (SI, ex Isis).  Da tempo queste due famiglie vivono, assieme a 150 altri nuclei cristiani, musulmani e yazidi, nella parrocchia di Enishke (diocesi di Amadiya, Kurdistan irakeno) affidati alle solerti cure di p. Samir Youssef. Anche se la lotta contro le milizie jihadiste è vinta, restano ancora molti problemi e difficoltà, primo fra tutti la ricostruzione delle case, che impedisce un ritorno a breve.
La prima famiglia, originaria di Mosul, è composta dal padre Emad Matti Elias, 64 anni, un tempo operaio in una fabbrica di grano; la moglie Jiandark Mahe Haqobian, 59 anni, e due figli: Meriana, nata nel 2001 e che frequenta le medie e la sorella Fostina, nata tre anni più tardi. La seconda famiglia, anch’essa fuggita da Mosul e oggi ospite in una scuola adibita ad alloggio, è formata dal padre Asaad Amen Jiarjes, 47enne meccanico che oggi svolge lavori saltuari; la moglie Mari Noel Abdel Ahed, 44 anni, e le figlie Lara e Jilan nate nel 2003 e nel 2006.
Ecco, di seguito, la loro testimonianza ad AsiaNews raccolta da p. Samir:

Come avete vissuto questo periodo di Avvento, in preparazione al Natale?
I primi tempi, dopo la fuga da Mosul per l’arrivo dello Stato islamico, era difficile vivere il Natale. Ma dopo il nostro arrivo qui a Enishke, l’accoglienza della Chiesa locale ci ha fatto sentire a casa. E ci ha accompagnato nel vivere la nostra fede, insegnandoci e aiutandoci a prepararci alla festa della nascita di Gesù a livello materiale e spirituale. 
Asaad: Sopratutto a livello spirituale, partecipando al tempo di preghiera, agli incontri, ai canti di tutta comunità. Insieme ai nostri figli abbiamo fatto anche l’albero, perché è sempre fonte di grande gioia, soprattutto per noi che viviamo ancora oggi in una scuola, che è diventata la nostra casa. Ma quello che conta è la compagnia di Gesù. Spesso ci riuniamo per leggere il Vangelo, cantare, pregare il Rosario. [Intervengono i figli, che aggiungono] L’albero è un simbolo della Croce, dà il senso della vita e ci dà tanta gioia.
Cosa significa per voi il primo Natale dopo la sconfitta dell’Isis?
Questo Natale è molto diverso e significa molto per noi. È la conferma che Gesù è la vita vera, la vita nuova, e che ogni male ha la sua fine. L’Isis è finito perché il male non ha futuro. Questo è davvero il Natale dell’amore, più forte della morte. È la festa della vita, della vittoria per tutti i cristiani. Significa che dopo ogni notte viene il giorno, dopo l’oscurità la luce. Gesù è venuto come luce per il mondo e la vita di Gesù vince sempre qualsiasi tipo di morte, di paura e di male. Non abbiamo più paura per le nostre figlie.  
A: Questo Natale ci dona forte il senso della speranza. Continuiamo a vivere accanto a Gesù, perché non solo l’Isis, ma nessun tipo di male può separarci da Cristo. E noi continuiamo la nostra missione di testimoni con Cristo. Questo è il Natale: Gesù con noi. [Prosegue la moglie] Siamo molto felici che l’Isis non ci sia più, sentiamo l’amore di Dio nei cuori. Questo, l’amore di Dio, resta per sempre, non lo Stato islamico come gridavano i jihadisti.
Quanto ha contato la fede in Gesù, in questi anni di sofferenza e lontananza?
La fede è stato il punto di partenza per sopportare tutto. La forza che ci ha aiutato per continuare a vivere, per ricominciare da zero qui. La nostra fede rimane, mentre l’Isis se n’è andato. In questi tempi di difficoltà e lontananza dalla nostra casa, la fede e la preghiera sono state la nostra forza. Viviamo la nostra fede attraverso la preghiera, cibo della anima. Senza questa fede non saremmo arrivati fino a qui e vogliamo viverla oggi partecipando a tutte le attività.
A: La nostra fede è stata il primo aiuto, la base per sopravvivere. Abbiamo vissuto la nostra fede qui a Enishke con i fedeli della parrocchia; una parrocchia che ci ha accolto come i suoi figli. Oggi possiamo dire con orgoglio di non aver abbandonato la nostra fede. E attraverso la preghiera, tramite la Chiesa, il parroco e nostro padre spirituale “Abuna Samir”, abbiamo potuto sperimentare l’amore di Dio, e che non siamo soli. Di qualunque cosa avessimo bisogno, la Chiesa locale è sempre venuta in nostro aiuto, permettendo anche alle nostre figlie di studiare… vorrebbero diventare dottoresse per curare i bisognosi.
Come vedete il futuro dell’Iraq?
Il Paese è composto da regioni molto diverse fra loro, e da etnie diverse, oltre che trovarsi in una zona non stabile. Per questo ci sono sempre problemi, scontri. Ma noi speriamo e crediamo che il Signore non abbandonerà l’Iraq, e si troverà un giorno la pace, la stabilità. A volte riusciamo a essere ottimisti, confidiamo nella Provvidenza divina e nella protezione della Chiesa. Resta la paura, ma la fede e la speranza sono più forti, vincono la paura e non vogliamo che i nostri figli crescano nella paura.
A: C’è un futuro per i cristiani in Iraq. Molti Paesi europei hanno aperto le porte ai rifugiati, ma io ho deciso di restare con la mia famiglia, di non lasciare l’Iraq. Questa è la nostra terra e non dobbiamo lasciarla agli stranieri. Dovunque ci sono difficoltà e sfide, io conosco famiglie cristiane che hanno lasciato l’Iraq e non sono affatto contente. Molti ci hanno aiutato a rimanere qui. Oggi c’è fiducia, tranquillità, e questo deriva anche dalla nostra fede, nonostante tutte le circostanze ci spingano ad avere paura. Ma noi restiamo ottimisti, forti e fiduciosi.
In occasione del Natale, volete mandare un messaggio a quanti hanno cercato rifugio all’estero?
E: Il messaggio che vogliamo inviare loro è di avere fede in Dio. Se avessero avuto una fede salda in Lui, non avrebbero lasciato l’Iraq. Certo, molti sono stati costretti in passato, ma adesso è tempo di tornare. Perché questa è la nostra terra, le nostre famiglie non sono felici all’estero. Devono tornare e, insieme, ricostruire l’Iraq. E gremire con noi le chiese, per festeggiare. 
A: Io invito quanti stanno fuori a tornare. Questa è la nostra terra, specialmente quanti hanno trovato riparo nei Paesi che stanno attorno all’Iraq. Bisogna collaborare tutti assieme alla ricostruzione, per questo mi auguro che possano tutti tornare al più presto. Infine, voglio augurare ai cristiani di tutto il mondo, e in particolare ai miei fratelli irakeni, un Natale pieno di pace.

Natale in Iraq: la preghiera dei cristiani di Ninive, “la pace dei nostri nemici sarà anche la nostra pace”

By AgenSIR
Daniele Rocchi

“Siamo tornati, siamo tornati”.

La voce di padre Paolo Mekko, parroco caldeo di Karamles, villaggio cristiano della Piana di Ninive, non ha più il tono sommesso di quando raccontava la fuga dei cristiani, almeno 100mila, da Mosul e dai loro villaggi incalzati dalle bandiere nere dello Stato islamico (Isis). Era l’estate del 2014. Il Califfo al-Baghdadi voleva cancellare la presenza cristiana ma è stato sconfitto e i cristiani stanno tornando nelle loro proprietà, mano a mano che vengono ristrutturate e ricostruite. Un messaggio di speranza e di vittoria che trova ulteriore significato in questo Natale, “il vero primo Natale nei nostri villaggi oramai sicuri e liberati” dice il sacerdote. Non lo erano nel dicembre 2016, subito dopo la liberazione avvenuta solo due mesi prima. Molti jihadisti, infatti, erano ancora rintanati a combattere tra le case distrutte. Ma oggi i boati delle bombe, i sibili delle pallottole sono un ricordo che tutti, “qui nella Piana vogliono lasciarsi dietro le spalle. Vogliamo guardare avanti”. Rinascono le case e anche le chiese, in questo lembo di terra culla della cristianità irachena: lo scorso 8 dicembre è stata riconsacrata la chiesa di San Giorgio a Tellskuf, gravemente danneggiata e profanata da Isis e ricostruita grazie ad un contributo di 100mila euro da parte di Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre (Acs).

“Pronti a celebrare”.
Ma i numeri della devastazione restano ancora preoccupanti: 13mila le case danneggiate di cui 1.234 quelle distrutte, 3.557 le case bruciate e 8.297 quelle danneggiate. La ricostruzione procede lenta ma costante.
I cristiani non mollano e in molti celebreranno il Natale nei loro villaggi.
A Qaraqosh sono tornate oltre 400 famiglie, 800 a Bartella, più di 900 a Tellskuf. In totale sono 6.330 i nuclei cristiani che hanno potuto finora fare ritorno alle proprie case. Ma le stime sono provvisorie e in crescita.
“Qui a Karamles la chiesa è ancora un cantiere – spiega padre Mekko – ne abbiamo una più piccola ma è insufficiente ad accogliere tutti i parrocchiani rientrati, oltre 300 famiglie, e quindi celebreremo in una grande sala che stiamo sistemando con decorazioni, fiori e un grande presepe, forse il più grande tra quelli dei villaggi della Piana. La mangiatoia è rappresentata dall’altare dove poggeremo Gesù bambino la notte di Natale”. Sulle strade di nuovo frequentate dei villaggi si notano le prime luminarie. “Alberi e simboli natalizi sono tornati anche a Mosul dove fino ad oggi sono circa 70 le famiglie cristiane rientrate”, rivela il sacerdote, originario della città che si affaccia sulla sponda occidentale del fiume Tigri. A Kirkuk, per decisione delle Istituzioni locali, il 25 dicembre sarà giorno festivo, un modo concreto per esprimere la solidarietà di tutta la società verso i cristiani, in occasione del Natale.

Scintilla di speranza.
Ed è proprio a Mosul che il patriarca caldeo, Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, aprirà il 24 dicembre le celebrazioni del Natale con una messa, alle ore 10 del mattino, nella chiesa di San Paolo che si trova nei pressi dell’università cittadina.
“La chiesa – sottolinea padre Mekko – sarà allestita da giovani cristiani e da giovani musulmani molto attivi che vogliono in questa maniera lanciare un messaggio di pace e di riconciliazione. Con il patriarca caldeo ci saranno anche i vescovi di Mosul, il siro ortodosso, mons. Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, e quello siro cattolico, mons. Petrous Moshe. Tutti insieme renderanno omaggio alla tomba del vescovo caldeo, mons. Paulos Faraj P. Raho”, rapito il 28 febbraio 2008 e ritrovato cadavere il 13 marzo a Mosul. Dopo il prologo a Mosul, aggiunge il sacerdote, “nei villaggi la sera del 24 si recitano i primi vespri, poi accenderemo il tradizionale ‘fuoco dei pastori’, per arrivare alla messa di Mezzanotte. Le liturgie proseguiranno poi anche per tutto il 25. Oggi la Piana di Ninive è sicura e celebrare di notte, come vuole la tradizione, è possibile – afferma senza tentennamenti il parroco di Karamles - I nostri giovani stanno lavorando anche alla preparazione di momenti di gioco per i più piccoli, lo scambio di doni, tempi di festa con musica e danze. Per la notte di Capodanno i giovani visiteranno le famiglie, cristiane e musulmane, del villaggio per fare doni ai bambini da parte di Babbo Natale. Tutto questo serve a ricreare quel senso di gioia e di speranza che sembrava svanito con la violenza cieca dell’Isis”.
Festeggerà chi è rimasto nei campi rifugiati di Erbil, capitale del Kurdistan, tanti quelli che si recheranno nelle parrocchie del sobborgo cristiano di Ankawa, ma, spiega padre Mekko, “confidiamo in questo Natale per vedere famiglie tornare anche solo per festeggiare. Potrebbe essere la scintilla che li spingerà poi a rientrare definitivamente”. “Una scintilla di speranza per i cristiani di Ninive” è l’augurio del parroco. “Nessuno tra noi credeva di tornare e di rivedere la propria casa, ma stiamo rientrando, e questo è un miracolo di Natale. Ma non basta.
Nelle nostre preghiere chiederemo pace e perdono anche per i nostri nemici per chi ha sparso morte, per chi ci ha scacciato via dalle nostre terre, chiederemo al Signore il dono della riconciliazione per il nostro Paese.
La pace dei nostri nemici sarà anche la nostra pace”.

21 dicembre 2017

Christians Ready for Christmas After the Caliphate’s Collapse

By National Catholic Register
Peter Jesserer Smith

In their villages on the Nineveh Plain, Iraq’s Christians are celebrating their first Christmas since the region’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS).
In the little town of Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), there will be no flocks of sheep grazing, or cows lowing, as in past years past, on the holy night of Christ’s birth — just the sound of Christians singing the Divine Liturgy at midnight in their burned churches.
More than three years ago, Yohanna Towaya left his home in Qaraqosh and escaped with his family as ISIS advanced. Coming back in September, he found his home had been torn apart and looted, with signs that ISIS had planned on burning it.
But Towaya, a Syriac Catholic, was relatively lucky: Many houses were destroyed, including those belonging to his parents and his brother.
“We left everything,” he said. “We [Christians] had millions of dollars, but left it to keep our faith.”
Christmas in Qaraqosh is not just a celebration of Christ’s birth, but an exercise in hope for Christianity in Iraq’s resurrection after ISIS.
More than 150,000 Christians were expelled from their homelands by ISIS’ genocidal campaign. Only 250,000 Christians are estimated to remain in Iraq. This December has seen one-third of the displaced Christian population return to their homes, according to figures kept by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee.
Before the arrival of ISIS, Yohanna Towaya drew his income from three sources: his law practice, lecturing at the university and raising turkeys. All his agricultural equipment and poultry need to be replaced. But until he can get reimbursed, the funds Towaya needs to rebuild his business are tied up in the cost of the repairs to his house. Many other Christians are in similar situations.
Towaya said the Christians are reconstructing houses, but the pace is slow. The town has no potable water, and families are relying on generators to power their houses. The average cost to rebuild a destroyed home is $60,000. The minimum estimate for repairs to a damaged home runs about $5,000. It’s a tall order for the Christian survivors of the Islamic State’s campaign of genocide. Their savings were either left behind or spent during their displacement.
Father Salar Kajo, the vicar general for the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Alqosh, told the Register that in Telleskuf, where he is a pastor, the Christians are getting “step-by-step” back to normal life. They reconsecrated and reopened their Chaldean Catholic church, St. George, which was badly damaged by ISIS, just in time for Christmas. The young people, he said, made a beautiful Nativity grotto and set up a large Christmas tree.
“We feel that this Christmas is a very special Christmas for us after three years of being displaced from our villages,” Father Kajo said.
The priest said Christmas is an opportunity for spiritual solidarity. But the big gift that Christians around the world could give them would be aid in “getting our villages rebuilt and supporting the peace in our lands.”

Rebirth in Christianity’s Cradle
Rebuilding the Christian community in Iraq requires outside help. Their Churches are the only working civic institutions in northern Iraq, and they have relied upon a variety of cooperating organizations, such as Aid to the Church in Need, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Near East Welfare Agency, and Catholic Relief Services, to name a few, to sustain their efforts.
Christian reconstruction, including homes, church properties, schools, hospitals and other public properties, has an estimated price tag of $250 million, according to Aid to the Church in Need.
Father Georges Jahola, a Syriac Catholic member of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, told the Register the pace of reconstruction depends on the pace of financial support. The committee estimates it needs $60 million to rebuild or repair the 13,000 houses in the Nineveh Plains region damaged or destroyed by ISIS. Restoring these homes would pave the way for 90,000 displaced Christians living in Erbil to return. So far, Father Jarhola said, the committee has been able to spend just $1.2 million on homes.
Because livable housing is the top priority, the repair of most churches has had to wait. The people are celebrating this Christmas in burned churches, which have neither glass windows, electricity nor heat to ward off the below-zero temperatures in winter. But Father Jarhola said the plan is to get churches into top shape in time for Easter 2018.
For now, Father Jarhola said the Christians are witnessing to the hope of the Resurrection as they celebrate the birth of Christ.
“Celebrating Mass in a burned church sends a big message: that life goes up from death,” he said.

Challenges at Christmas
Northern Iraq’s infrastructure, long neglected before ISIS’ arrival, is unlikely to be repaired for a long time due to bureaucratic red tape.
Ashur Eskrya, the Dohuk-based director of the Assyrian Aid Society-Iraq, told the Register that the region needs a single political authority, not multiple political and religious authorities, coordinating the restoration of infrastructure and essential services. After returning to their homes, he said Christians are eager to get the electricity back on, clean water running and their churches restored.
“The Church for our people is one of the most important things for returning life to the people,” he said.
Assyrian Aid Society has been working with the U.S.-based Iraqi Christian Relief Council to rebuild homes and get some limited infrastructure working in Qaraqosh to make the town more livable.
The organization also has teams organizing Christmas activities in a number of villages to brighten people’s spirits. Some volunteers will dress up as “Papa Noel” to bring 3,000 gifts to children at Christmastime.
Eskyra said that the Christians on the Nineveh Plain need internationally guaranteed security to guarantee the region’s neutrality, make sure that Christians can return to their homes and properties, and assure people the genocide that took place under ISIS will never happen again.
If money from the U.S. Agency for International Development starts flowing to the churches, instead of only the United Nations, as Vice President Mike Pence announced in October, Eskyra said that would be a “concrete message” of support to Iraq’s Christians. Christian leaders in Iraq expect it will take some time for the U.S. to put the promised direct funding of their projects into place.

Security and Stability
Long-term success will depend on economic development. But first security is needed, in order for thousands of families to return from Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
“People are happy to go back to their villages, but security is a big issue,” said Michel Constantin, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s (CNEWA) Beirut-based regional director. Some Christians have delayed their return to Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, because they fear former Islamic State militia are still prowling the city.
Constantin said the rebuilding and economic redevelopment is critical: Without the necessary money arriving soon to restore homes and livelihoods, the fear is that people will sell their property and leave — this time for good.
This Christmas, CNEWA has been funding a winter clothing drive to obtain hats, jackets and winter shoes for needy Christian children and their families. They are also working to restart the Christian hospital in Qaraqosh.
In Qaraqosh, Constantin said, a third of families had returned to the area, and the town had shrunk to approximately 10,000 people, a fifth of its former size. The agrarian economy that supported the region has to restart from scratch, because ISIS destroyed the livestock and equipment. All of that needs to be replaced.
In addition, he said, the fields have to be checked for unexploded shells and mines. All this runs into the millions of dollars.

Christmas Hope After ISIS
Christmas in Iraq usually is preceded by nine days of fasting, and then people fill the churches for midnight Mass. The liturgy is followed by people dancing in the streets, enjoying music and giving gifts to each other. In better days, the villages would launch fireworks into the night sky.
Towaya said the gift Christians in the Nineveh Plain want this Christmas is support and hope for the future.
Christmas celebrations continue for a second day, as people visit the tombs of the dead, reminding them of their ancient Christian heritage and their hope in the Resurrection.
Towaya said he and other Christians cannot abandon the bones of their ancestors. They have returned to bring their villages back to life and send a message to the world that they will stay in their lands and witness that Christianity will continue in Iraq.
“The people are building everything here for their faith,” he said. “Here, it is the earth of the apostles, the earth of Christianity.
“How can I leave it?”

How You Can Help

Aid to the Church in Need
(800) 628-6333

Iraqi Christian Relief Council
(312) 912-4300

Catholic Relief Services
(877) 435-7277

Knights of Columbus (Christian Refugee Relief Fund)
(800) 694-5713

Catholic Near East Welfare Association
CNEWA.org  (Click on “Ways to Give” and select “Iraq” in the “Give by Location” section.)
(877) 284-3807