fbpx

Iraq

 

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.

Iraq – Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits! – ACN-News

26.02.2019 in ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Marta Petrosillo, By Marta Petrosillo, Communiqué, Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Middle East, Reconstruction

Aid to the Church in Need in Iraq

Rebuilding with The Pope’s Lamborghini profits!

Montreal, February 26thThanks to a donation of 300 000 dollars from the Holy Father, following the auctioning of the Lamborghini that was given to him last year, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be able to fund two new projects on behalf of the Iraqi Christian families and other minorities who have returned to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

Marta Petrosillo for ACN-International and Mario Bard, ACN-Canada

On 15 November 2017 the Holy Father decided to give ACN part of the proceeds from the auctioning of the Lamborghini Hurricane that had been donated to him by the famous Italian carmaker. Now ACN will give concrete form to the Pope’s gesture by funding the reconstruction of two buildings of the Syriac Catholic Church, destroyed by the war. They are the nursery school (kindergarten) of Our Lady and the multipurpose centre of the parish of the same name.

Both buildings are in the village of Bashiqa, just 30 km from Mosul. The village was badly damaged during the war, but the Christian community has returned, and in large numbers. In facts by now, 405 of the 580 homes that were destroyed here have already been rebuilt and around 50% of the Christians, or 1,585 people, have already returned.

The Parish Hall was totally destroyed.

The two projects funded with money from the Lamborghini will also benefit the other minorities in the town, since the multipurpose centre, which has capacity for over 1,000 people, will be used for weddings and the religious feasts of all the different communities. It will be the largest such centre in the area and will be available for use to over 30,000 people of all different faiths and ethnic groups.

The Return of Iraqi Christians: An Unexpected Success!

signature

Just a little over two years since the liberation of the villages of the Nineveh Plains, the number of Christians who have been able to return to their homes has exceeded even the most optimistic predictions. By January 11th this year at least 9108 families had returned to their villages, almost 46% of the 19,832 families dwelling there in 2014 prior to the arrival of the so-called Islamic State (IS). This is thanks above all to the immense work of reconstruction – to which ACN have greatly contributed – that has made it possible so far to rebuild or repair some 41% of the 14,035 homes
destroyed or damaged by IS.

This intervention, in which the pontifical foundation ACN has played a major role in collaboration with the local Churches, has also found a generous benefactor in the person of the Holy Father. Already back in 2016 Pope Francis gave 150,000 dollars in support of the “Saint Joseph Charity Clinic” in Erbil, which provides free medical assistance.

This most recent gift by the Holy Father will be a further help to local Christians, enabling them to live their own faith and offer a future in Iraq to their children. At the same time it is a powerful message and an invitation to peaceful coexistence between the different religions in a region where fundamentalism has sadly damaged interreligious relations.

***

Since 2014 and up to the present day ACN has given over 60 million dollars for the support of Iraqi Christians.
Thanks to you, Christians in Iraq can return home.
Thank you!

Iraq: New hope for Christians in Iraq!


Feature story of the week: United in prayer for the Middle East

06.07.2018 in ACN International, ACN NEWS, ACN Spain, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Raquel Martin & Maria Lozano, Iraq, Jordan, Prayer

Iraq and Jordan

Day of Prayer for the Middle East

Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan, Archbishop Alberto Ortega: “It is not possible to imagine the Middle East without the Christians.”

 

On Wednesday, July 4, the papal Nuncio in Iraq and Jordan, Archbishop Alberto Ortega, visited the Spanish national office of the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), in Madrid.

 

International Conference “Return to the roots: Christians in the Nineveh Plains” hosted by Aid to this Church in Need – At press conference: Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martín (Apostolic Nuncio in Iraq and Jordan) – Photo by Christian Gennari

During his visit to his own native city, Archbishop Ortega underlined the importance of the Day of Reflection and Prayer that Pope Francis will be celebrating tomorrow, Saturday, July 7, in Bari, Italy, along with all the Patriarchs and Heads of the Eastern Churches in the Middle East. The meeting will also address the complicated situation being lived by the Christians in the region.

 

This gesture is intended to bring the faithful to “look to the East,” he explained. “The place where the Christian faith was born; where we should be living in peace; and yet there are conflicts. It is a place where Christians are called to fulfill a most important task.”

 

As Nuncio in Iraq and Jordan, the calling of this meeting is “a very beautiful gesture, for the value of prayer that it contains, which is the most important thing,” according to the Nuncio. “Catholics, Orthodox, Christians of other faiths… All will be praying together, and indirectly calling the attention of the international community to the need to support peace and development in these countries, as well as to support the Christian presence as a positive element for all sides.”

 

Photographer: Jaco Klamer

“It is not possible to imagine the Middle East without the Christians,” Archbishop Ortega added. “It would not be the Middle East; it would be something else, and so it is very important to maintain this gesture, whereby communities of different faiths can live together, mutually respect one another and build up the country together.”

 

In the Middle East, he explained, Christians have always had the mission to be “instruments of peace and reconciliation, of unity and development. It is a mission that requires us to be silent witnesses, since over there we cannot openly preach the presence of the Lord.”

 

And yet, “this very simple and very discreet mission can transform the situation and touch people’s hearts,” he observed. “And it is revealed in the various activities of the Church—her schools, dispensaries, hospitals; all the charitable activity of the Church.”

 

Italy, Rome 28.09.2017 – His Beatitude Louis Raphaël I Sako(Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church from Iraq)

A new cardinal, also welcomed by Muslims

Archbishop Ortega had just returned from Rome after taking part in the Consistory for the Creation of new Cardinals, among whom was the Chaldean Patriarch, Archbishop Louis Sako.

 

In his estimation, this gesture by Pope Francis is a gesture of “support for the Christians of Iraq, of all the Middle East, of the entire region.” The news of which was received with great gratitude and joy.

 

“The news was very well received, not only by the Christians, but also by many Muslims. There have been a huge number of expressions of appreciation and support sent to the Patriarch by the Muslims, starting with the President of Iraq, the Iraqi Prime Minister and the Minister of external affairs, and also including ordinary people who have seen this appointment as a gesture of closeness by the Pope for the country and also for the Christians.”

 

The new Cardinal Louis Sako will now have “a stronger and more sustained voice, with still greater moral authority” for the support and defence of the Christians in this country, the papal Nuncio affirmed.

 

Almost half the Christian refugees have now returned

Speaking of Iraq, the Nuncio confirmed that the situation in the country is now “somewhat better” and that little by little the Christians are returning to their former homes on the Niniveh plains, “thanks to the support of organizations such as ACN and others and of some national governments,” he added.

 

“Almost half the Christians have now returned to their homes, and this is good news,” he said. “In Qaraqosh, the town with the largest Christian population, over 5,000 families have returned, and little by little, in some of the Christian villages, life is beginning to resume its normal pattern.”

 

Nonetheless, he added that “much remains to be done” and expressed his hope “that the aid may continue to come in, because people can return only if they have homes and can find work—and consequently it is essential to continue the international aid, and the support of the Church, for these people have lost everything for the sake of their faith.”

 

Iraq, June 2018
Mother and daughter of the Syriac Catholic Bassim Family in front of their house in Qaraqosh. It has been reconstructed with the help of ACN – Photo by Oliver Maksan

The simple truth, he said was that the Christians of Iraq simply wish “to be fully recognized as citizens, with the same rights and duties as the rest of the population, and to be appreciated for the work that they do on behalf of all. Very often it is the Muslims themselves, their own neighbours, who tell them they want them to stay and not to go away, because things are better with them there.”

 

A spectacular lesson in forgiveness

In the view of the papal Nuncio, the Christians of Iraq have given two important lessons to the entire universal Church: “the value of the faith, and their union with the Lord, for the sake of whom they have lost everything without a second thought and given up their homes and their work…”

 

And then there is a “spectacular lesson in forgiveness. To hear these Christians forgiving and praying for those who persecuted them is a testimony to the action of the Lord. Humanly speaking, it is extremely difficult to forgive someone who has driven you out of your home, who has caused you to lose everything or murdered one of your loved ones.”

 

From 2011 to June 2018, ACN gave almost 60.6 Million for pastoral projects and emergency aid in Iraq. In 2017 alone, ACN gave 14 Million dollars. The pontifical charity is the most actively involved aid organization on the Nineveh Plains.


Over one million dollars gained in the auction of the Lamborghini donated to Pope Francis  

14.05.2018 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Maria Lozano, Iraq, Pope Francis, Urgent need

Pope Francis and ACN

The gesture of the Holy Father fortifies the hope of the Christians of Iraq

Over  one million dollars  gained in the auction of the Lamborghini donated to Pope Francis  

The Lamborghini, donated last November by the car company to Pope Francis, was sold at auction in Sotheby’s, Monaco, for over one million dollars  last Saturday. The proceeds from the sale will be directly handed over to the Holy Father who has decided to set it aside for four charities.

In accepting the gift at the time, the Holy Father wanted all the proceeds of the auction to go to various charities. Pope Francis has designated a part of the income to alleviate the needs of the Christian communities in Iraq. Especially of those who, after the military defeat of Daesh in 2016, wish to return to their villages of the Nineveh plains from which they were expelled back in August 2014. The military ousting of Daesh has allowed for the reconstruction of Christian towns and villages, an operation that Aid to the Church in Need has been largely involved in since its conception in spring 2017.

At least 50% of the proceeds from the auction will go towards rebuilding homes, public structures and places of worship in the Nineveh Plains in Iraq in order to guarantee the Christians’ return. The so called “Marshall Plan” is coordinated by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee with the support of the pontifical foundation ACN and involves all the different Christian denominations in Iraq. The Iraqi community feels comforted by Pope Francisco’s generosity. Up to now, the committee has estimated that about 44% of Christian families have returned to the Nineveh Plains.

 

ACN’s Interview – Iraq – “If the families do not return to their homes, then Christianity will disappear”

06.04.2018 in ACN Canada, ACN Interview, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Josué Villalón (ACN Spain), Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Iraq, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Middle East

Iraq:

“If the families do not return to their homes, then Christianity will disappear”

 

Father Salar Kajo is one of the priests who have accompanied the over 120,000 Christians who were forced to flee their homes following the invasion by Daesh (Islamic State/IS), and who have spent the last three years as refugees in their own country, Iraq. He was among the first to return when the Iraqi army finally succeeded in driving out the jihadists. Father Salar is now working with the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, coordinating the work of recovery and rebuilding in nine villages on the Nineveh plains.

 

“The Church is the only organization working with the Christians of Iraq and the other minorities to recover their homes. If these families do not return to their homes, Christianity will disappear from Iraq,” he affirmed emphatically during his visit to the Spanish national office of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

 

What is the current situation in the villages of the Nineveh plains?
In the northern region of the Nineveh plains, around 1,000 families have already been able to return to their homes. All this has been possible thanks to the Church, which has made it possible for them to return. But we have to continue working so that everybody can return.

 

How are the people who have returned managing to live?
The great challenge in many cases now is for them to find work. They thought they would never be able to return to their homes and they had lost hope, although not their faith in Jesus. One example of their deep faith is the fact they have been able to forgive Daesh and their neighbours who collaborated with the jihadists.

Trip to Iraq 2016 December 19 / Fr. Salar Soulayman Bodagh (Chaldean priests) on the balcony of the presbytery of the Mar Quryaqus (Qeryaqos) church in Batnaya Mar Quryaqus (Qeryaqos).

They firmly believe that only forgiveness can change the hearts of those who committed so much violence against them.

 

You were one of the first people to return to these places. What did you find?
It was the very day of the liberation of villages such as Telleskuf, near Mosul. I arrived with a group of young people. In Batnaya, the first place I visited was the church and I could see that everything had been destroyed. Lying on the ground were Bibles and lectionaries that had recently been burnt. Before leaving the village, the militants of Daesh made a special point of ransacking the churches. After that, we visited a number of nearby houses, but we could not visit anything else because the village was full of landmines. We prayed an Our Father in Aramaic and then rang the church bells, which were sounding out for the first time in three years.

 

What were your thoughts when you saw the ruined churches and houses?
I felt a sense of great pain. We had many memories of our villages and of the churches. We had worked hard in the past to keep these churches well maintained. But I said to myself, “Thank you, Lord, because if we could not save the church buildings themselves, we did keep the faith of the people.”

 

Do you think the faith of the Christians in Iraq is stronger now than before?
I believe so. For now we are seeing the fruits of this faith, for example in the kindness towards those who have lost everything, including their neighbours of other religions and many Muslims from other villages. And also, as I said earlier, the fact that the Christians have forgiven the people who were their neighbours, and who helped Daesh to occupy their homes and to rob and burn their villages.

Iraq, February 2017: Desecrated image of Our Lady and burned in the courtyard of the St Addai Church in Batnaya – a small town on the Nineveh plains, 15 kilometres from Mosul. 

 

How is it possible to forgive, after having lost everything? Have they really forgiven?
In the name of Jesus Christ everything is possible. The people have suffered greatly; for three years, as refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, they faced many difficulties. But they have a faith that has enabled them to overcome everything, although not without difficulty. This faith also makes it possible for them to truly live this forgiveness.

 

Can you give us any examples?
The first thing these families did upon returning to their villages was to go and visit their Muslim neighbours. To ask them how they were. And they told them that they wanted to return to live in peace, and recover the spirit of mutual coexistence. That is something humanly speaking impossible, but from the logic of our faith it is possible.

 

What do you need now?
It is urgently necessary for everyone to return to their towns and villages. But this will only be possible thanks to the help of organizations like ACN, because the governments are not giving us any help. After a year of rebuilding, the only channel of aid has been through the Church. We want to return, to recover our dignity and to work and live as we did before Daesh. This is our land, this is our identity.

 

How has your life changed personally, after so much destruction?
The crisis with Daesh has made me grow stronger in my priestly vocation. The Lord is using priests so that we can be closer to the people in these difficult moments, in every area of their lives and not only in pastoral matters. This has strengthened relations between the Church and the faithful. It is important for the Christians to stay on in Iraq. They have a moral responsibility to make peace and change the hearts of their fellow citizens. They see themselves as peace builders in the region of the Middle East.

 

We are still helping in Iraq. Thank you for your donation!

 

Iraq, 2016 December: 19 destroyed houses in Batnaya (view fron the roof of the Mar Quryaqus (Qeryaqos) church in Batnaya.