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Iraq

 

ACN Feature story – Iraq: Batanya is back

18.03.2020 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Chaldean Catholic, Iraq

Iraq

Batnaya is back

Text by John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted on line March 18, 2020

Catholic charity to help rebuild flattened Christian village

A massive program has just received the go ahead to help revive a Christian village in Iraq, which was almost completely razed to the ground after being seized by Daesh (ISIS).

The plan for Batnaya devised by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will involve restoring the Chaldean Catholic village’s parish church of St Kyriakos, repair the nearby Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, the parish hall, library and parish house (presbytery), as well rebuild the flattened St Oraha’s Dominican Convent and the kindergarten, which the Sisters will run, caring for 125 children.

The plan is seen as crucial to the revival of a village, where, after more as two years of Islamist occupation, just one percent of its 997 Christian homes was still standing.

 

Announcing the plan for the most devastated of the 13 Daesh-occupied Christian towns and villages in the Nineveh Plains, ACN Middle East projects director Father Andrzej Halemba described the program as “a new and courageous step forward to secure the future of Batnaya. Even if the situation is not very clear, we see the importance of a sign of hope. ACN is determined to help the Christians to stay. Our task is to stand by the people who would like to come back.”

Rebuilding Batnaya is an immense task as the village was on the frontline of fighting between Daesh and coalition forces. After the Daesh occupation ended in October 2016, the village was abandoned as a ghost town. Batnaya was disputed territory between the federal government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. Widespread booby-trapping has delayed work which could only begin after a huge de-ordnance program had been completed. Restoration has been further hampered by the extensive tunnels dug under the village by captives of Daesh who went underground to escape bombardment.

More recently work got underway to repair houses, electricity, water and schools and last summer families finally started to return. Within eight months, 300 people have come back and church leaders now think hundreds more will return after years of displacement in neighbouring towns and villages.

 

The extremists had smashed altars, decapitated statues and daubed blasphemous anti-Christian messages on the walls. Work on the church and chapel will involve replacement of windows, doors and roof tiles, redecoration throughout and removal of Daesh graffiti such as “Slaves of the Cross, we will kill you all. This is Islamic territory. You do not belong here.”

For many Christians, returning has meant overcoming memories of Daesh daubing homes with ‘n’ for ‘Nazarene’ (Christian) and demands to pay jizya Islamic tax, convert to Islam or face execution by the sword. Resettlement of Batnaya is key for the recovery of the Christian presence in the Nineveh Plains.

ACN Feature Story: Batnaya rises again in Iraq

25.02.2020 in Iraq, Priests, Reconstruction

 

Iraq

Batnaya rises again

by Irmina Nockiewicz & Maria Lozano , ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web February 25, 2020

Batnaya is a town in the north of Iraq, some 24 km from Mosul. Before ISIS arrived there were 950 families living here, all of them Chaldean Catholics. It was used by the terrorist group as its front-line while it shelled Kurdish troops. Without doubt, it was one of the worst hit areas, first by the invasion of the Islamist terrorists and then by a coalition airstrike.

According to a study released by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), after the liberation of the zone only 10 out of the 977 houses were left undamaged, while two-thirds were completely destroyed or burned out in fall 2016. For this reason, although the displaced residents of Batnaya gathered there at Easter time in 2017 to celebrate their first Mass after more than two years of terrorist occupation, any thought of return seemed impossible. For more than two years Batnaya had been a ghost town.

A family of pioneers supported by their parish priest

At least that was the situation until last summer. The first family arrived there on 22 June 2019. Their house was in a bad state but Faris Hanna Naamo still wanted to return. “It was my house after all,” he tells Aid to the Church in Need. He was stubborn enough to persuade his wife Hana, and together with their three children they returned to the town. “There was no electricity or running water… and no neighbours. Even something as simple as going out to do the shopping was risky, as we had to travel 5km and go through the army checkpoints in order to get to the next town, Teleskof,” Faris explains.

“Stubborn or determined?” wonders Father Aram Rameel Hanna of the parish of Batnaya, who was of the greatest help to the Faris family right from the start. The couple are very indebted to him because, as they assure ACN, there wasn’t a single day during that terrible time when Father Aram didn’t visit the family. “I don’t know what we would have done without him. We went through many difficult moments in which it was very hard to believe that everything was going to get better. I remember that my youngest daughter, Nour, didn’t have any friends to play with, she only had her big sister. She would take her bicycle and cycle through the empty streets for the whole day. It grieved me. When Father Aram came, it was a great blessing for us, he gave us hope. He was a like a breath of fresh air and he strengthened our faith. Thanks to him, we were able to stay strong.”

Father Aram insists that he only came for a cup of tea, taking no credit for himself. However, it is no secret that this priest, who studied at Harvard and who had been running a help centre for people suffering from trauma and stress disorder in the neighbouring town Algosh, was about to leave with a grant to finish his studies when his bishop asked him to look after Batnaya, and so he stayed.

 

The ‘Market for Returnees’ gains new customers

After the Faris family there were other families who had the courage to return, among them Ghaliv Nouh Oraha, his wife Sandra and their five children. They returned to Batnaya on 25 September 2019. There were already two families there by then. Shopkeeper Diver Salem decided it was time to open a shop, and that was how the “Market for Returnees” was born. Diver’s courage impressed Father Andrzej Halemba, who heads ACN’s Middle East projects section, on his latest visit to Iraq. “Diver told me he had had a feeling that the time had come, but I don’t know how he could even imagine that other families would see it that way, too. He would have never been able to survive with only two families as customers. Of course, there are families who feel safer having a shop nearby, but now 75 families have returned already! I believe it has clearly been a work of Providence; if not, it would not have worked so well.”

 

“I even met a man who had returned from Germany and who was waiting for his wife to come and join him”, Father Andrzej Halemba continues. He is referring to Basher Kiryakos Hanna, who returned as soon as he was able, since his wife did not feel at home in Europe. “But it is not easy,” Father Halemba warns. “We cannot forget the atrocities that were committed in Iraq; the danger was real, and the people were absolutely terrified. But now Batnaya is timidly rising from the ashes. There are over 300 Christians in the town now, and I’m sure that more will come if we help them from our charity.”

 

A new nursery school

It is help that is absolutely vital, since there are some projects that are of fundamental importance for the life of the community. The Christians of Batnaya need a church, a community centre and a nursery school for their children. There is a school bus which every morning picks up around 20 children, eager to meet with their friends and learn new things. But for the younger children there is still no kindergarten or nursery school. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, present in Batnaya for over a hundred years, had to flee with their people and accompanied them during the exile in Ankawa and Duhok. Now they want to return to continue serving them.  And so they have embarked on a double project, involving the rebuilding both of the kindergarten and at the same time their own convent, both bombed and fully destroyed. With the support of ACN they are hoping to be able to obtain the necessary cash to begin work on both projects. “In sha Allah – God willing,” say the sisters, who, despite having suffered greatly during the past few years, have lost none of their courage or their hope in God.

Also the church of Mar Kriakhos and the chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate (Al-Tahira Chapel), desecrated, burned and sacked by the terrorists of the Islamic State, await aid to be rebuilt. The images were beheaded, the windows were broken, the terrorists used the spaces as a shooting area and painted graffiti both in Arabic and in German: “Slaves of the cross – we will kill you all. This is Islamic territory … you do not belong here.”

 

Fari and Hana, Ghaily and Sandra, Basher Kiryakos or Diver Salem have had the courage and audacity to return and prove that their faith and love for the ancestors’ land is stronger than the fear of those threats. ACN is committed to helping them with their purpose.

An ACN Interview with Archbishop Issam John Darwish Christians and Muslims united in protests

22.01.2020 in Iraq, Refugees

Lebanon

Christians and Muslims united in protests
The political and economic crisis is related to the migratory wave of neighboring countries

By Maria Lozano, ACN International
Published on the web January 22, 2020

Lebanon is one of the 40 smallest countries in the world, yet it houses the largest proportion of refugees per capita. Its proximity to Israel and Syria has meant that thousands of Palestinians and Syrians have sought refuge in this country which, despite suffering a cruel war in the 1990s, is one of the most democratic in the Middle East. The presence of more than one million refugees has placed a huge burden on the government and has led to an aggravation of the political and economic crisis the country is suffering. The Archbishop of Furzol, Zahle and the Bekaa for the Greek Melkite Catholics, Issam John Darwish, speaks in an interview with Maria Lozano of Pontifical Charity for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), about the protests and demonstrations taking place throughout the country since October 17, 2019, as well as of immigration and its consequences.

 


 

Greek Melkite Archbishop Issam John Darwish of the Eparchy of Zahle, Furzol and the Bekaa.

ACN: What is the Church’s position about the protests taking place in Lebanon? And what are the primary demands of the people?


The demonstrations here have a pure economic background; religions have nothing to do with it. And Christians are practicing the religious rituals normally without any problem. The main trigger for the demonstrations is that the government was planning to put extra taxes on the citizens. Now the majority of the people participating in the demonstrations have no more confidence in the government. Their main demands are a government of specialists to save the country, to declare bank transparency of politicians’ accounts and to recover looted money.

ACN: Who are the protesters, are they especially young people as in other countries where social protests are taking place? Do you think people have a real chance to be heard?


Actually everybody is protesting. Men and women, young and old, Christians and Muslims, students and parents and the demonstrations are not located in one place. In every region in Lebanon there are demonstrations, even in Zahle.

People are doing their best to be heard. Politicians give speeches and promise them that they are ready to make a change, but the people seem to have lost all confidence in them. They are calling on them to resign.

 

ACN: Do you think these events will have a positive impact on the unity of the country?

These events are certainly something that had never happened in Lebanon before. Christians and Muslims in all the regions of Lebanon are united behind the same demands. We note that the people are behind living demands like saying no to taxes, asking for medical insurance, asking for electricity, complaining about corruption, and the very bad economic situations they are living in. These demonstrations have no political backgrounds; people are asking all politicians to resign.

Humanitarian Feeding program ” Saint John the Merciful Table” for Syrian refugees and others in Zahle area and Bekaa Valley

ACN: All religious leaders provided support to the people, except the Shiites. Why?


Actually I have no answer for this question. There might be a political reason or they are afraid that if the government resigns we might be facing a dramatic economic collapse. And that is what some politicians and religious leaders are afraid of.

 

How do demonstrations affect daily life in your area?


Until now people have been getting their necessities. But if the demonstrations last longer without any solutions from the government we might face bigger problems. Most of the roads are being closed each morning by the protesters. That’s why many of the people are not capable of reaching their place of work.

 

ACN: Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita worldwide. Does the Church in Zahlé also take care of refugees?


Eight years into the Syria crisis the estimated number of Syrian refugees exceeds 1.5 million; in addition to a large number of Palestinian refugees. And there is no end in sight to this situation. Our Archdiocese in Zahle and the Bekaa for Greek Melkite Catholics had the leading role in helping the displaced Syrians. We have supported and helped them since the beginning of their displacement to Lebanon until today, especially the Christian refugees, who were and still are invisible to all European and international communities, because they live off camps. So they are always neglected in terms of support or help. The number of displaced Christian families was more than 2,000 families, among which 800 families are in our region.

Families with Archbishop John Darwish at St John the Merciful Table, Zahle, Lebanon, providing meals to displaced families

ACN: This is an immense number of refugees in relation to the small population of Lebanon. Does it have repercussions in Lebanon? Is the current crisis in the country related to the refugees’ crisis?


Well the presence of the refugees has an influence on the economic situation in Lebanon. Lebanon is a small country with many political and economic problems. Their presence caused additional burdens on the government. The unemployment rate increased; now Lebanese and Syrians find it hard to have jobs. The economic situation is very bad, the government tried solving it by putting extra taxes on the Lebanese citizens and that was the main cause that have launched the demonstrations.

 

ACN: The situation in Iraq and Syria has improved. Most of the refugees are from there. Are they starting to return home?


A small minority is returning back to their home country. The majority of the refugees are immigrating to Europe and Canada in search for a better future. In Zahle, many of them left without telling us, because they know that we are not in favor of their immigration. The other families are still here in Zahle, under our care.

Celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 29 2019: “Jesus is my Rock” rocks for the migrants and refugees

 

ACN: What does ACN’s help do?

ACN helps by allowing and giving refugees the opportunity to have a hot meal every day at Saint John the merciful Table and also through humanitarian assistance, including the distribution of food packages, hygiene kits, diapers, mazout for heating, rent assistance, medical assistance and school tuition.

This help is very important to the refugees especially since Lebanon is having an economic crisis and a high rate of unemployment. The Lebanese themselves have been suffering from this severe economic situation for a long period and this is the main cause that launched the uprising and the demonstrations in the streets.

 

 

ACN News – Address to the United Nations Security Council by Chaldean Bishop

11.12.2019 in Chaldean Catholic, Iraq, United Nations, Youth Apostolate

Iraq

Address to the United Nations Security Council

An ACN partner, Msgr Bashar Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil in Iraq, gave an address to the United Nations security council on December 3rd.  Here is what he had to say to the international community.


Archbishop Warda at Myeondong Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul – a special Mass and lecture for the Church in Iraq was held.

Address of Archbishop Bashar Warda

Kurdistan Region, Iraq

To: UN Security Council, New York
December 3, 2019

Security Council Meeting Concerning the Situation in Iraq


Thank you Madame President:

 

What is the current situation?

The current protests in Iraq demonstrate the rejection by the majority of the Iraqi people of the post 2003 structure and government of the country. It is a rejection of a sectarian-based Constitution, which has divided Iraq and prevented it from becoming a unified and functioning country. Instead of bringing hope and prosperity, the current government structure has brought continued corruption and despair, especially to the youth of Iraq.

It is very significant that young Iraqis have been the leaders in the protests. These young people have made it clear that they want Iraq to be independent of foreign interference, and to be a place where all can live together as equal citizens in a country of legitimate pluralism and respect for all.

It is important to understand that Christians have not only sided with the protestors openly, but
also that the Christians and other minorities including Yazidis, have been welcomed into the protest
movement by the Iraqi Muslims. In a real sense, these protests have demonstrated the true richness of
the historical Iraq. This opening of reconciliation between all Iraqis demonstrates real hope for positive
changes in which a new government in Iraq, if there is a new government, will be much more positive
towards a genuinely multi-religious Iraq with full citizenship for all and an end to this sectarian disease
which has so violently harmed and degraded us all.

In contrast, the non-violence of the protestors must not be overlooked by the international
community. These courageous protestors have been committed to non-violence from the very beginning
of the movement, even though there have been daily instances of extreme violence directed towards the
protestors from militia forces who have continually attempted to provoke confrontation. Over 400
innocent protestors have now been murdered, and many thousands seriously injured. Yet the protestors
still remain non-violent.

 

What is at stake?

At stake is whether Iraq will finally emerge from the trauma of Saddam and the past 16 years to
become a legitimate, independent and functioning country, or whether it will become a permanently
lawless region, open to proxy wars between other countries and movements, and a servant to the
sectarian demands of those outside Iraq.

If the protest movement is successful in creating a new government, with a new, civil
constitution, respecting the diversity of its religions, and cultures, one not based in Sharia but instead
based upon the fundamental concepts of freedom for all, freedoms enshrined in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights written by this organization where we all sit today, then a time of hope can
still exist for the long suffering Iraqi people. Despite everything, the Iraqi people love their country, and
they want it back.

If the protest movement is not successful, if the international community stands by and allows
the murder of innocents to continue, Iraq will likely soon fall into civil war, the result of which will send
millions of young Iraqis, including most Christians and Yazidis, into the diaspora. In the crisis and the
genocide of 2014, over four million Iraqis, Muslims, Yazidis and Christians fled to the Kurdistan region
seeking refuge from the evil of ISIS, but still remained within the country. In another major conflict, we
are likely to see the people flee from Iraq for good. We are indeed at perhaps the last chance for our
country.

 

What can and should the international community do to help?

The international community must not be satisfied with false changes in leadership which do not
really represent change. It is clear that the ruling power groups do not intend to give up control, and that
they will make every effort to fundamentally keep the existing power structures in place. The
international community must clearly understand that the protestors will not accept this, and the
international community must not take part in supporting any type of false change.
This is not to say that certain groups do not have legitimate concerns regarding their proper
representation in any new government. However, these concerns must be addressed in a way which
reflects the reality of the current broken nature of Iraq’s government, and its fundamental need for
change and replacement.

The first step must be the initiation of early elections. The protestors insist on this and the
International community must fully support this. Unlike the very limited participation of past elections,
these elections must involve the youth of the country – those who have stood up so courageously against
corruption during the protests these past weeks.

In the period before and during the elections, the press, both Iraqi and international must be
completely free to report on and discuss all the issues that need to be addressed by the elections. In this,
the current blocking of news reporting, internet and social media, must end immediately.
Finally, elections must be fully monitored by the United Nations, and observed by all major
parties in Iraq so that the elections are legitimate, free and fair. Only in this way can a new government
set a course for the future of an Iraq which is free of corruption and where there is full citizenship and
opportunity for all.

The young Christians of Iraq have been participants in these protests every day. They have been
there because the protests have given them hope for a future, a future in which they belong as equal and
contributing Iraqi citizens. Along with the millions of other marginalized Iraqis, they look now to the
International community for your action and support. We hold you all accountable for this. Iraq, the
country which has so often been harmed, now looks to you all for help. We believe we have a future,
and we ask you not to turn away from us now.

Thank you

ACN News: Supported Projects in Iraq

03.12.2019 in ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Iraq

ACN Supported Projects in Iraq

A next new phase of rebuilding

 By Xavier Bisits, ACN International
revised by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

Published on-line December 3, 2019

 

It was just in March of this year that ISIS lost the final vestiges of its “caliphate” in Syria, and not long ago that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the world’s most notorious terrorist, died in a shootout with American soldiers.

 Meanwhile, life in a Christian region to the north of Mosul, the Nineveh Plains, is slowly resuming with the help of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), two years after Mosul was liberated from its Islamist overlords.

On October 30, Philipp Ozores, Secretary-General of ACN, visited the Nineveh Plains to announce the beginning of a major new phase of support to the Nineveh Plains, involving the rehabilitation of church-owned properties, to restore a feeling of security to returned residents.

Over 35 million dollars since 2014

Approximately 45% of the population has returned; shops have reopened, many houses have been repaired, and church life has resumed: catechism, radio, schools, and women’s groups.

A significant part of this return to normalcy has been supported by ACN benefactors, who have allowed the pontifical charity to engage in a wide-ranging program of emergency aid and home rehabilitation. Since 2014, it has spent 35 million dollars in emergency aid to support Christian IDPs (Internally Displaced People in Iraq, primarily through food and rent support.

 

In the Nineveh Plains, ACN has funded the rehabilitation of 2,086 homes, or 37% of all homes that have been repaired. This program, to the value of 9.6 million dollars, supported homes in Baghdeda, Bartella, Tesqopa, Karamless, Bashiqa, and Bahzani.

 

Still, emigration remains a grave threat to the future of the region, where some people are losing hope that Christianity can flourish in Iraq, and look to countries like Australia and Germany for a better future. The rate of departures is such that urgent action is needed to restore security, and create positive reasons for the indigenous Christian people of Iraq to stay in their homeland.

 

In this context, ACN is shifting towards a new phase of projects designed to make people feel safe in the towns to which they have returned. These projects are all about rebuilding critical church infrastructure in several of the Christian towns and villages that dot the area.

 

Mr Ozores attended a meeting of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), chaired by ACN Middle East Section Head Fr Andrzej Halemba, to announce several of these projects. The NRC meeting was attended by representatives of the Syriac Catholic Church (Fr George Jahola), Syriac Orthodox Church (Fr Jacob Yasso), and Chaldean Catholic Church (Fr Thabet Habib). Mr Ozores told participants of the solidarity of the global Catholic Church: “We are with you, and we will remain with you in Iraq.”

 

Restoring Iraq’s largest church

Chief among these projects is Great Al-Tahira Church, the largest church in Iraq, sitting in Baghdeda, Iraq’s largest Christian city, which is 95% Syriac Catholic. ACN will be supporting the $765,000 restoration of the interior which remains charred and unsightly after ISIS militants piled the pews and furniture of the church in a heap, set it alight, and fled the town.

 

Every day, parishioners gather in the remains of the church, although many are saddened to worship in a visibly desecrated church, once the pride of the town. Many people are still recovering from the trauma of displacement, murdered relatives, and their knowledge that their home was colonized for two years by Islamist fanatics and their Yezidi slaves. ACN hopes that this project will restore hope to Iraq’s remaining Christians – a battered and fragile mere 10% of the 1.5 million Christians who lived in the country prior to its descent into civil war, and the religiously motivated murder of at least 1,000 Christians.

 

Although the Christians of the Nineveh Plains have proved their resilience, in this critical period of reconstruction, they hope not to be forgotten.

 

After the interior is restored, more work will need to be done to restore the damaged exterior and belltower of the building. The Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Petros Mouche, told ACN: “For us, this church is a symbol. This church was built in 1932, and it was the villagers of Baghdeda who constructed it.  For this reason, we want this symbol to remain as a Christian symbol to encourage the people, especially the locals of Baghdeda, to stay here.”

“This is our country, and this is a witness that we can give for Christ … I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who help, as these organizations can’t help us without the support of their benefactors.”

 

ACN also approved $1.3 million to reconstruct the Najem Al-Mashrik Hall and Theatre in Bashiqa, a Yezidi-Christian town, with a large Syriac Orthodox population. The Hall will allow the church to resume large wedding ceremonies, and encourage young people to build their future in their home, rather than looking to foreign countries.

Fr Daniel Behnam, the local priest, said: “We are happy to accept the reconstruction of Najem Al-Mashrik Hall. This project will help ensure the survival of Christian families, and provide them with important services. In particular, it will help young people, providing a space for pastoral, cultural, and youth activities.”

 

ACN also recently approved 13 other projects amounting to more than one million dollars for Syrian-Catholic, Chaldean and Syrian-Orthodox Christians, all to rebuild church properties damaged by ISIS militants.

 

ACN, Aid to the Church in Need, is a pontifical charity, relying mainly on small donors to provide support and hope to the poor and persecuted Church.

 

ACN News: Fate of Christians tied to deadly Iraq protests 

04.11.2019 in Iraq, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Violence against Christians

Iraq

Fate of Christians tied to deadly Iraq protests


by Xavier Bisits, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Posted Monday November 4, 2019
  Although Iraqi Christians, concentrated in the north of the country, lie far from the epicentre of deadly protests in Baghdad, their fate may be tied to the outcome of what demonstrators in Iraq are calling a “revolution.”

While protesters in Baghdad have emphasized interfaith unity, protests have in fact been concentrated in Iraq’s nine Shiite provinces, with limited involvement from the Sunni Muslim and minority-dominated north.

Most Christians live close to Mosul, Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab city, where the streets have been quiet. Mosul residents told ACN that after three years of war, people are tired of violence and “do not want war anymore.” Protesting, they also said, might lead to accusations that they are ISIS sympathizers trying to bring down the Iran-backed regime—leading to an even more violent reaction from the militias and security services who control the city.

Christians, meanwhile, largely live in towns where, because of the fraught security situation, protesting is banned by security forces and the Nineveh Provincial Council. At most, some churches have held services calling for peace. At Sts. Behnam and Sarah Church in Baghdeda (Quaraqosh), the largest Christian city in Iraq, Catholics gathered to pray for peace in their country, with altar servers carrying Iraqi flags for the occasion.

Mgr.-Yohanna-Petros-Mouche

Christians and other minorities: victims of political strife

Many of the issues highlighted by protesters in Baghdad are the same ones faced by young Christians: unemployment, corruption, and a government motivated by Iranian interests. In the Nineveh Plains, many Christians live under the control of Iranian-backed militias, who have been accused of extorting the local population, interfering with the economy, and intimidating minorities.

These factors explain why some Christians, mostly young, in the Nineveh Plains, have expressed solidarity with the protesters, some of them apologizing on social media for not being able to come out on the streets. On October 27, a group of Christian activists launched a campaign of solidarity, with the slogan: “We are Christians of the Nineveh Plains, in solidarity with our fellow protests. We apologize for not being able to demonstrate because in our cities we are not allowed to demonstrate.”

Other Christians express skepticism about how much the protests will achieve and concerns about violence. Since the protests began on October 1, at least 200 protesters have been killed at the hands of the Iraqi police. If the situation deteriorates, it would not be the first time that Christians and other religious minorities became the victim in the political strife that has characterized Iraq since 2003. Between 2003 and 2017, at least 1,357 Christians were murdered by hostile sectarian militant groups, according to the Shlomo Organization for Documentation—bystanders in a civil war that disproportionately affected Iraq’s ancient religious minorities.

The Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Yohanna Petros Mouche, told ACN: “It is just and appropriate that the oppressed and others deprived of their rights demonstrate—provided that they will be listened to and respected.

deadly-protests-in-Iraq

Expressing their peace

‘This is not the case in Iraq. There is no government, no respect for the human person, and people may use these circumstances to take revenge on others. Moreover, in the Nineveh Plains, we have had enough. “I hope that prayer will, in some way, play a role, accompanied by an intervention that will make things calmer and bring different ideas together. In the end, it’s the people who will be the victim.”

In a statement, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad, Raphael Sako, who on October 28 cancelled a planned trip to Hungary and visited wounded protesters in a hospital in Baghdad, called on the government to listen to protesters: “We appeal to the conscience of Iraqi Officials, who are in charge, to listen seriously to their people, who are complaining of the current miserable situation, the deterioration of services, and the spread of corruption, leading to such crisis.”

“This is the first time for the Iraqi people, since 2003, to express their peacefulness away from politicization, breaking sectarian barriers and emphasizing their Iraqi national identity.

ACN Interview: Professor Muna Yako, Iraqi Christian activist and constitutional expert

20.09.2019 in ACN, Chaldean Catholic, Iraq

Iraq

Political Islamists attempt to radicalize judiciary in Iraq

 Christians fear a theocracy as parliamentarians try to change the Federal Supreme Court, which interprets the constitution and determines the constitutionality of laws and regulations.

By Xavier Bisits, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Griffin ACN Canada

In a country where Christians have grappled with targeted bombings, kidnapping, and discrimination, leaders are grappling with a new crisis: an attempt to give Islamic clerics voting rights on the country’s Federal Supreme Court.

The move, which is not yet confirmed, would bring Iraq a step closer to an Iran-like theocracy, where non-Muslims are forced to live under Islamic Sharia law. For example, in Iran, Christian women are forced to wear the veil, and alcohol is completely banned.

The change would include four Islamic jurists as part of 13 voting members of the country’s Federal Supreme Court. All decisions would require the support of at least three of the four jurists, permanently radicalizing the country’s judiciary.

This past August, Professor Muna Yako, an Iraqi Christian activist and constitutional expert, explained to ACN that although the Constitution refers to Islam as the foundation of law, it also references the importance of democracy and human rights.

This change to the Federal Supreme court would likely mean that Islamic law will always take precedence: “You need to have the court to interpret the constitution. Right now, I hope that if a case goes to the Federal Court they might prioritize human rights and democracy, in some instances. If, however, these Islamic jurists join the court, we will have no chance of ever prioritizing democracy or human rights.”

Iraq, Karamlesh (Karamles), July 2019 – buildings destroyed by ISIS

 

It would also mean an end to any attempts to overturn legislation that discriminates against religious minorities and treats them as second-class citizens. For example, current law says that non-Muslims can convert to Islam, but the reverse can’t happen. Likewise, Christian men are not allowed to marry Muslim women without converting to Islam, which is “unconstitutional discrimination.”

“If, however, these Islamic jurists join the court, we will have no chance of ever prioritizing democracy or human rights.”

“The Iraqi government has disappointed us so far, but I still have hope of seeing change. If the court adopts this law, though, I will no longer have any hope. This will make Iraq like a theocracy because all the laws will be based on religion – for example, rules about clothes and alcohol.“

She worries that if this “terrifying” change happens,  even more Christians will leave the country and “we will become just a memory, just like the Jews.” Most Christians belong to indigenous groups who have been in the country for thousands of years.

Vigil prayer for the Middle East at Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark´s Basilica) in Rome, 27.09.2017: His Beatitude Louis Raphaël I Sako (Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church from Iraq)

Cardinal Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, in a letter to the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, wrote of his concern that this is proposed “after all the suffering we have endured from terrorism, displacement, pillaging, murder, and property theft.” He expressed his worry that the proposal would threaten the future of Christians in the country, by applying Islamic law to Christians in personal matters, such as inheritance.

This opinion is backed up by other legal experts. Dr Majida Sanaan-Guharzi, writing in the newspaper Kurdistan 24, believes that the change “could substantially alter the court’s function, promoting an increasingly theocratic state wherein religious rules take precedence over the existing, mostly secular, legal system.”

 

The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need has extensive operations underway in Iraq and has mostly been working to provide emergency support to Christians affected by Daesh (also known as the Islamic State or ISIS). ACN’s main focus at present is on rebuilding church properties that were deliberately targeted during the three-year occupation.

 

November 2018, Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh, destroyed during violence under reconstruction.

ACN Feature: Sowing hope for more Christian families in Iraq

03.07.2019 in ACN International, by Xavier Bisits & Iban de la Sota, Iraq, Religious freedom

Iraq

Sowing hope for more Christian families in Iraq

by by Xavier Bisits & Iban de la Sota , for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 3, 2019

As part of its reconstruction efforts in the Nineveh Plains, Iraq, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has begun work to restore the homes of 41 Christian families in the town of Bartella. Approximately 220 additional people will benefit from this project, the latest in ACN’s program, which has already helped renovate more than 2,000 houses in the region.

 

Prior to Daesh’s (Islamic State) invasion in 2014, Bartella was a town of 3,500 Christian families (i.e., ca. 17,500 people, including around 12,300 Syriac Orthodox and 5,200 Syriac Catholics). When residents returned after the liberation of their town in 2016, they found their churches desecrated, with the black flag of Daesh draped over the walls. Their homes: burned, looted, and damaged in an attempt to prevent Christians from ever returning home. Other houses were destroyed by airstrikes during the liberation.

 

A ceremony marking the beginning of the work was held on June 5, 2019, beginning with Gospel readings and prayers chanted in Syriac, a neo-Aramaic dialect.  Fr Benham Lallo, representing the parish priest, Fr Benham Benoka, who could not make it to the event, led the proceedings and interpreted for Fr Andrzej Halemba, ACN’s Middle East section head. The latter, in a message to the families, compared their mission to that of families in the Old Testament, who had to rebuild Jerusalem after its destruction. He also asked them to pray for ACN’s benefactors. The olive trees were then blessed and distributed to each family, symbolizing the hope that peace will return to the region, after many years of war – that these trees, planted in the gardens of these families, might bear fruit.

 

Following the invasion of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in the summer of 2014, ACN provided food, shelter, medicine and schooling for displaced Christians and others arriving in Erbil and elsewhere. After the expulsion of Daesh when the communities began returning home, the charity began rebuilding homes, convents, churches and other structures.  ACN donors gave 63,933,318 million in aid to Iraq, from 2014 to May 2019.

ACN News: The call of Chaldean Bishop Sako for the guarantee of minority rights in Iraq

27.05.2019 in Chaldean Catholic, Iraq, Middle East, Press Release, Religious freedom

Iraq

 ‘Constant discrimination, uncertainty’ are pushing Christians out of Iraq

 

The leader of the Chaldean Church has called on the Iraqi government to put in place and enforce laws “that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities … full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly.

 

Montreal, Friday – May 24, 2019: “The absence of serious steps” to protect the rights of minority faiths in the country, says Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako in a statement to Aid to the Church in Need, “will push the remaining Christians and minorities to choose emigration.”

 

Christians and minorities “have played a significant role in enriching Iraq’s cultural, social and economic diversity, making valuable contributions to education, health, public administration and social services,” said the Cardinal; without them, Iraq would become “a country with one homogeneous fabric [that] could be isolated from the world and [which] may generate a kind of radicalism, [and] ethnic and sectarian fanaticism.”

 

In his declaration, Patriarch Sako lists a number of factors that are pushing Christians and other minorities into leaving the country. These include the ongoing “fragility of the security situation” and Iraq’s “institutional weakness at the level of justice,” the state’s failure to protect non-Muslims from discrimination in the realms of “education, employment and social life,” as well as at the political level. Christians with outstanding professional qualifications, the cardinal charged, are denied positions only because of their faith. “Qualification and competence,” the cardinal insisted—and not an individual’s faith—should be the “measure for employment.”

 

Christians denied seats in Iraqi Parliament

Furthermore, the patriarch notes that Christians are denied their rightful quota of five seats in the Iraqi Parliament. He also calls for the application of “a civil law for all Iraqis,” rather than Christians and other religious minorities being “subjugated to [an] Islamic court, [with regard to] spiritual, religious matters, marriages, inheritance, etc.”

 

Patriarch Sako proposes a number of additional “practical measures” to fight the “injustice and discrimination” suffered by religious minorities. He calls on the Iraqi leadership and “political ‘powers’” to combat “religious extremism that uses violence” and to take measures toward “disarming militias; providing security and stability; combating extremism, discrimination, terrorism and corruption.”

 

The cardinal insists that the Iraqi political leadership should promote “citizenship values” that support the common good by drawing on “principles of freedom, dignity, democracy, social justice and true relationship among all Iraqi citizens regardless of their religious, cultural and ethnic affiliations.” Such policies will bring about harmonious “coexistence with Muslims” for Iraqi’s religious minorities.

 

Finally, the Patriarch calls for laws that help create “good conditions that guarantee Christians and other religious minorities … full citizenship and freedom in practicing their faiths explicitly; preserve their heritage, archaeological and historical monuments as an integral part of Iraqi civilization, in order to enable them to continue their lives with dignity.”

 

By Joop Koopman for ACN International
 And Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the web Monday May 27, 2019

An ACN Interview – Archbishop Petros Mouche of Iraq

12.04.2019 in ACN International, ACN Interview, CONSTRUCTION, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Persecution of Christians

Iraq longs for better times for its Church and its people

Archbishop Petros Mouche heads the Syriac-Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which was captured by ISIS in the summer of 2014. Today, with ISIS ousted from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, Christian communities are slowly coming back to life. Thousands of Iraqi faithful, having spent upwards of three years in exile in Kurdistan, have resettled in their former homes, villages and towns. In an interview with the pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Mouche—who also oversees the Syriac-Catholic Church in Kirkuk and Kurdistan—takes stock of the situation:

by Ragheb Elias Karash, for ACN International

Positive change has occurred in our region—no one can deny it. Things may not yet be at the required level, but there are very clear and concrete signs of progress. But no credit goes to the state: credit belongs to the faith-based and humanitarian organizations that rushed in to support us.

However, we still lack the funds to complete the reconstruction of all the homes that were very badly damaged or completely destroyed; we are waiting and hoping that governments, like those of the United Kingdom and Hungary, will step in and help us on this front.

Problems will not end so long as greed prevails

As for the creation of jobs, there are very few initiatives; we have made many requests to several American, British, French and even Saudi Arabian companies to launch some major projects in the region, so that our people can survive and especially our young people can find work—but we are still waiting. The Iraqi government has made many promises, but few projects have been implemented. Our confidence in the state is low. We are convinced that, offered the right opportunities, many of our people would return to Qaraqosh—if they could live there in peace and stability.

The problems will not end as long as greed prevails; when only the strong prevail and the rights of the poor are crushed; as long as the state is still weak and the law is not applied. But our hope is in God and we pray that ISIS will never return. For their safety and overall well-being, Christians depend on the rule of law and the integrity of government—that is what can guarantee safety for us and the Church.

There is not one specific and well-known party with plans to attack Christians; however, whoever has ambitions to grab our land loses the sense of citizenship and does not respect the rights of others. Such parties don’t even feel comfortable with our survival and ongoing presence.

There are many goodwill visits by official delegations and many good words are spoken—but nothing happens. Good intentions are not enough. On the part of some, there is not sufficient respect for our rights; and Christians do not use violence to defend themselves, but appeal to mutual respect. But if that is not answered in kind, more and more Christians will emigrate. This hurts all of us, who love this land, our history, our civilization and our heritage.

The Church as a whole—its bishops, pastors and laity—is sparing no effort to claim the rights of its people and to secure an area where we can live in dignity and peace. Church leaders do their best to instill confidence and hope in our people, but without forcing anyone to return, stay or be displaced. That decision each family must make for itself, the decision that guarantees its dignity, its future, especially the future of the children.

Here is my message to the Christians who have left Qaraqosh, wherever they may be—still in Iraq, or whether they are already in foreign lands:

Qaraqosh is the mother who has fed you the love of God, the love of the Church and the love of the land; it will remain your mother despite her sadness at your absence; the city is your heart that is still attached to you and its eyes are watching all your steps. It is happy when you are happy, and it is worried about your destiny when you are not happy. Its doors remain open to you. At every moment Qaraqosh is ready to embrace you again—Qaraqosh asks that you remain faithful to the pure milk that it gave you!”

Mgr-Petros-Mouche

Since 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has been on the forefront of supporting Iraqi Christians with projects totaling more than 40 million dollars, including humanitarian aid for faithful who fled to Kurdistan to escape ISIS, the repair and rebuilding of Christian homes on the Nineveh Plains, and, currently, the reconstruction and repair of Church infrastructure in northern Iraq.