After a lot of pressure from human rights groups and some Christian Churches, our government finally agreed that the jihadists of Islamic State are committing genocide against the Christian population of Syria and Iraq. Before civil war broke out five years ago in Syria, thanks to the failure of the great powers and the UN who would not step in and help the peaceful demonstrators and let Assad begin his campaign of butchering people, Syria was one of the few refuges for believers in Christ. Those persecuted in Iraqusually fled to Syria or Jordan. Those two countries and Israel were the only ones where Christians could lead fairly normal lives, although Syria was a dictatorship with very little freedom of speech or press. The Christians accounted for 10% of pre-war Syria’s population, with a rich diversity of Eastern Churches – Armenian, Assyro- Chaldean, Greek,Maronite, Melkite, and Syriac – which covers Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and the Church of the East. In addition, there were Latin Catholics and Protestants. All of these people have suffered massacres, gang rapes of women, beheading, kidnapping, torture, slavery for continuing to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. So our generous country opened its doors to those who were driven from their homes by war and persecution, and have allowed forty-seven Syrian Christians to emigrate to our shores. Apparently the previous posting of 83 was wrong – we didn’t let in even that many after all!
Forty-seven. I have more immediate relatives than that!
How do our president, secretary of state, and those who have arranged the immigration of over 9,400 Sunni Muslims (Sunnis are 75% of Syria’s population) sleep at night? They merrily consign the Christians and Yazidi to the ongoing hell of the civil war. Islamic State does indeed persecute Sunni Muslims who do not go along with their extremist brand of Islam, but let’s face it – there are lots of Arabic Muslim countries to which they can go, but few places that will take a Christian.
The excuse is that Christians don’t register at the UN camps. They don’t because the Sunni refugees routinely berate, mock, beat, and terrorize Christians. When crossing the Mediterranean, Sunni Muslims have thrown Christians overboard and forsaken them. In refugee centers in Germany, Christians beg to be separated from their Muslim fellows because of what happens when the social workers go home. When they get to America and well-meaning social service agencies say “Let’s put all the Arab refugees together so they can be with people of the same language and culture” they are again exposed to extortion, beatings, and even rapes. So no, Christians don’t go to UN camps. But they do register for asylum, they do ask to be taken to safety. And we have bravely taken in forty-seven.
God must weep over us.
Write to your Congress people about this travesty. Maybe write Mr. Kerry and Mr. Obama. But I doubt they will hear us if they refuse to hear the cries of those dying or being enslaved on a regular basis.
PS HALF OF ALL REFUGEES ADMITTED TO THE USA ARE MUSLIMS. CHRISTIANS ARE ALSO ADMITTED, 46% OF ALL REFUGEES FROM A MIX OF COUNTRIES, BUT FROM SYRIA: NO. 99% ARE MUSLIMS. cf. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/16/nearly-half-of-refugees-entering-the-u-s-this-year-are-muslim/
The Obama administration admitted 2,340 Syrian refugees into the United States in July, almost as many as the record number of admissions in June (2,406), keeping it on track to reach its goal of 10,000 by the end of September.
Continuing a trend seen throughout the fiscal year, just 15 of the 2,340 resettled in July (0.6 percent) are Christians, while 2,308 (98.6 percent) are Sunni Muslims.
According to State Department Refugee Processing Center data, since the beginning of FY 2016 on October 1, a total of 7,551 Syrian refugees have been admitted. Of that number, 7,432 (98.4 percent) are Sunnis and 35 (0.46 percent) are Christians, including six Catholics, two Orthodox and one Greek Orthodox adherent.
The remaining 84 Syrian refugees admitted in FY 2016 comprise 50 other Muslims, 20 Shi’a Muslims, 10 Yazidis – like Christians, a minority singled out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) for persecution – three refugees identified as “other religion,” and one as having “no religion.”
Since the civil war began in 2011 the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered 4.82 million Syrians who have fled their homeland. Some 495,000 are accommodated in U.N. refugee camps.
Displaced Syrians include those wanting to get away from ISIS and other jihadist groups, those fleeing from atrocities carried out by the Assad regime – dominated by a minority Shi’a sect that has targeted Sunnis in particular – and its Hezbollah, Iranian and Russian allies, and Syrians simply wanting to escape the chaos and deprivation of the conflict.
Although Syrians of all ethnic groups and religious denominations have been caught up in the crisis, the number of Christians among refugees admitted into the U.S. is still disproportionately small: Some 10 percent of the Syrian population is Christian, and yet Christians account for less than one percent of refugees admitted to the United States.
On the other hand, Sunnis comprised around 74 percent of the Syrian population when the war began, while the proportion of Sunnis admitted to the U.S. exceeds 97 percent.
Of a total of 9,424 Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. since the conflict broke out,83 (0.8 percent) are Christians, and 9,151 (97.1 percent) are Sunnis.
——– Frankly, I’m surprised we even let in those eighty-three survivors. I suppose one must keep appearances though.
This comes courtesy of the ACLJ , American Center for Law and Justice, which is doing a petition drive as well. It is a conservative group in terms of politics – but the timeline is accurate and gives you an idea of how ISIS/ISIL has grown in its ability to spread terror, and in the ferocity of what it does to Christians, Yazidis, and those Muslims it disapproves of. The stuff they do is satanic in origin – horrible for all living under its rule.
April 18, 2013 – Before the rise of ISIS, the ACLJ draws attention to the worsening plight of Christians in Syria.
June 29, 2014 – ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
July 19, 2014 – ISIS takes over Mosul and other towns in Syria and gives an ultimatum to Christians: they must convert to Islam, pay jizya, or leave, and if they refuse they will die.
August 7th, 2014 – ISIS captured the primarily Assyrian Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Tel Keppe, Bartella, and Karamlish, prompting the residents to flee. More than 100,000 Iraqi Christians were forced to flee their homes and leave all their property behind after ISIS invaded Qaraqosh and surrounding towns in the Nineveh Plains Province of Iraq.
August 8, 2014 – Human Rights Office in Iraq reports ISIS has been burying hundreds of children and young people alive in Christian region of Mosul.
August 8, 2014 – After capturing the Iraqi town of Sinjar, ISIS fighters replace church crucifixes with ISIS flags. Christian leaders in the area also reported “systematic beheadings of children.”
August 12, 2014 – Reports surface of a 5-year-old Anglican Christian boy being cut in half by ISIS in Baghdad.
August 15, 2014 – Reports estimate that over 1,500 Christians and Yazidis have been abducted and forced to become sex slaves to ISIS fighters.
August 15, 2014 – In light of the recent attacks, the ACLJ began a petition to recognize the genocide and to protect the Christians in the Middle East.
August 19, 2014 – Journalist James Foley becomes first American citizen and American Christian to be executed by ISIS and was brutally killed via decapitation.
August 27, 2014 – The ACLJ filed a legal memorandum with the U.N. detailing ISIS’s assets, tactics, and atrocities, as well as condemning “the genocide of Christians being perpetrated by ISIS in Iraq.”
September 15, 2014 – The ACLJ released #1 New York Times bestseller, Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can’t Ignore, exposing the atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians and other religious minorities.
October 2014 – A United Nations report confirmed that ISIS was holding 7,000 Yazidi women as sex slaves.
February 12, 2015 – ISIS released a video that appeared to show its militants in Libya beheading a group of Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped in January.
February 23, 2015 – 1,500 ISIS fighters attacked a series of Christian towns in northeast Syria, burning churches, taking as many as 90 hostages, and forcing hundreds to flee from their homes. When ISIS fighters attacked the town of Tel Shamiram, they separated out the men, around 50 of whom they have taken into the mountains, and approximately 90 women and children are being held prisoner in the village by ISIS militants.
March 11, 2015 – ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations regarding “Protecting Religious Freedom Abroad” and stated that “[t]he heinous atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians . . . is nothing short of genocide.”
April 19, 2015 – ISIS released a video of militants from two of its Libya affiliates killing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.
July 9, 2015 – Four children were killed when ISIS blew up the historic Mother of Aid church in Mosul.
August 2015 – Twelve Syrian Christians (including women and children) were brutally and publicly tortured and executed in village near Aleppo, Syria, because they refuse to convert to Islam. ISIS members cut off young boy’s fingers and beat him as they demanded his father and two other men renounce Christianity, before executing all four by crucifixion. Eight women were publically raped and beheaded for refusing to renounce Christ.
August 2015 – A Syrian Priest who was kidnapped by ISIS was ransomed to his family for $120,000. When his family paid the ransom, ISIS had his body chopped up and mailed back to his family instead of releasing him as promised.
August 18, 2015 – The ACLJ launched a targeted legal advocacy campaign through a petition to the Obama Administration urging the Administration – specifically Secretary of State Kerry – to recognize the genocide against Christians.
October 5, 2015 – The ACLJ joins a coalition of concerned non-governmental organizations and individuals by sending a letter to President Obama regarding the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. The letter requests that President Obama officially recognize ISIS’s actions as genocide.
October 8, 2015 – ISIS released video showing three of the Assyrian Christian men kidnapped in Khabur being executed. It was reported that 202 of the 253 kidnapped Assyrians were still in captivity, each one with a demanded ransom of $100,000.
December 18, 2016 – The ACLJ’s European-based affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), submitted an amicus brief to the European Court of Human Rights “to share testimony about the current genocide of Christians in Iraq at the hands of ISIS.”
December 30, 2015 – ISIS suicide bombings took place in Syria in three restaurants frequented by Kurds and Assyrian Christians, killing sixteen and injuring dozens.
Late 2015– ISIS bombed and demolished Iraq’s older monastery, St. Elijah’s, which had stood near Mosul for more than 1,400 years. Father Paul Thabit Habib, a Catholic priest said that Iraq’s “Christian history was ‘being barbarically leveled’. He added, “‘[W]e see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.’”
February 5, 2016 – The ACLJ sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding legal analysis of the law of genocide as applied to the atrocities being committed by ISIS against Christians
February 15, 2016 – Through the ECLJ, the ACLJ submitted a written statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council, requesting that the U.N. join other international bodies and publically proclaim that Christians in Iraq and Syria are victims of genocide and deserving of international assistance and protection.
March 4, 2016 – Multiple gunmen linked to ISIS killed 18 people at a nursing home founded by Mother Teresa and run by Christian nuns in Yemen.
March 11, 2016 – The ECLJ presented an oral statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) asking the HRC to condemn the genocide against Christians.
March 14, 2016 – A bipartisan resolution that was drafted in 2015 passes the House of Representatives. The resolution finally declares the atrocities committed by ISIS are “genocide”.
April 22, 2016 – The ACLJ launches its seven-point, multipronged legal advocacy effort to stop the genocide and protect Christians.
April 28, 2016 – The ACLJ sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon requesting that the U.N. formally recognize that ongoing atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians as genocide.
May 19, 2016 – The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passes a bill containing several key recommendations that Dr. Sekulow proposed during his March 11, 2015 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
May 23, 2016 – The ACLJ sent a second letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to thank him for declaring ISIS’s atrocities as “genocide against . . . Christians” and also requesting that he use his position to mobilize the international community to stop the genocide and protect the victims.
May 27, 2016 – The ACLJ submitted a written Statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council requesting that the U.N. “recognize the ISIS atrocities against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities as genocide and take immediate appropriate action.”
June 6, 2016 – The ACLJ sent a letter to United States Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power thanking her for her consistent stance against genocide. The letter also urged her to “continue and intensify” efforts to mobilize the international community to stop the genocide against Christians and others religious minorities by ISIS.
June 7, 2016 – A twelve-year-old Christian girl was burned to death in her own home by ISIS terrorists in Mosul, Iraq.
June 16, 2016 – The ACLJ sent letter to the 47 Member States of the U.N. Human Rights Council regarding the upcoming genocide discussions at the Council’s June meeting and asking for their support in naming ISIS’s actions “genocide”. Some of the contacted Member States mention genocide as the ACLJ encouraged, which shows the progress being made within the international community to stop these hate-filled actions by ISIS.
June 22, 2016 – The ECLJ delivered an oral intervention at the U.N. on behalf of Christian victims of genocide and urged U.N. Human Rights Council to declare ISIS’s atrocities as genocide against Christians.
Nina Shea posits that our government has hesitated to support the Christians directly and openly so as not to open them up to the trumped-up Muslim charge of being “Crusaders”. That is a valid point, but frankly ISIL/Daesh and al-Qaeda have been damning Christians as crusaders for years. Christians are generally unarmed – that they can be considered an army is just effective propaganda. IN FIVE YEARS WE HAVE TAKEN IN SIXTY SYRIAN CHRISTIAN REFUGEES, BUT THOUSANDS OF SYRIAN MUSLIMS.
Iraqi church in ruins
What is worse is our continued refusal to grant sanctuary to those people who need to escape because they are believers in Christ as the Son of God. But our government works hard to defeat that. Our Kurdish allies are starting to replay some of their old history, when Kurds persecuted and massacred Christians in the Ottoman and Persian empires. Land is stolen, Christian families evicted, Christian names are banned, Christians are given shorter visas. The Chaldean and Assyrian patriarchs want to be able to keep their people in their own homeland – but how is the big question. Details are below.
Nina Shea, defender of Christian believers around the world
US Ignores Iraqi Christians for Fear of Being Called ‘Crusader Army’
The United States government is afraid to work directly with persecuted Iraqi and Syrian Christians because it doesn’t want America to look like a “crusader army,” prominent human rights lawyer and religious freedom advocate Nina Shea said Friday.While speaking on a panel discussion focusing on global persecution at International Christian Concern’s first annual conference on the persecuted church, Shea, the director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, detailed the U.S government’s troubling pattern of indifference toward the plight of persecuted Christians across the world.
In addressing whether or not it will be plausible for Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq to have their own province in the Nineveh Plain once the Islamic State is defeated so that Christians can return to their homelands, Shea stressed that she doesn’t think that such outcome could happen because Christians would have serious trouble defending the land.
“I am not terribly optimistic about the Christians getting their own province, at least not right now,” Shea bluntly asserted.
Shea said that although it is plausible to train Assyrian and Chaldean Christians and other religious minorities to defend their own province, the U.S. has a “complex” when it comes to working directly with Christian people groups.“Maybe they can be trained, maybe the U.S. can overcome its reluctance to work directly with Christians because it has a complex that it doesn’t want to look like a ‘crusader army,'” she explained. “This was true under the [George W.] Bush administration and more so now that the United States is desperate to avoid the label that we’re a ‘crusader army.'”
In general, Shea added, the U.S. government is “so unsympathetic” to the plight of Christians.
“The day before [Sec. of State John] Kerry designated [ISIS’ atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities] as genocide officially, the [State Department] were announcing they were only going to name Yazidis as victims of genocide,” Shea stated. “We signed petitions and put enough pressure on them with facts and arguments that [Kerry] listened but he hasn’t done anything since then.”
“In fact, he went to Iraq and gave two speeches a month later and never mentioned the genocide issue,” Shea continued. “This is Secretary Kerry, he gave a speech on the anniversary of the Holocaust and said ‘never again must we forget’ and never mentioned the ongoing genocide in Iraq and Syria right now.”
In addition, Shea pointed out the fact that Syria’s Christian population has not been fairly represented in U.S.’ Syrian refugee resettlement program.
“Christians comprised 10 percent of the population of Syria before the war five years ago, they constitute less than one percent of the refugee resettlement in the United States. The United States has resettled about 60 Christians in five years from Syria,” Shea said. “I don’t think at this point, we want to see all the Christians pull out but there are certainly more than 60, like the woman who saw her husband [crucified on their front door], she is not going back. She doesn’t ever want to go back. She wants to get out.”
“The United States as a government is absolutely indifferent and keeps its distance from oppressed Christian minorities,” she added.
As Shea does not believe that Christians will be able to defend their own province in northern Iraq, she believes the best thing for Christians who want to remain in the region to do is stay in Kurdistan under the protection of the Kurdish government. However, fellow panelist Juliana Taimoorazy, the founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council and an Assyrian Christian who fled persecution in Iran in 1989, warned that Christians also face injustices living under Kurdish rule.
“The priests and clergy do not openly speak. Many of them are under pressure. So, they come in with a different message,” Taimoorazy detailed. “There are many Assyrian businesses that have Assyrian names and Aramaic letters on their stores. According to a new law, the new businesses that are opening are not allowed to have Assyrian names. They have to be Kurdish.”
Juliana Taimoorazy, Assyrian Christian activist
Taimoorazy added that the Kurdish Regional Government also makes it hard for internally displaced Christians to get a job and gain economic stability.”When a Yazidi is given a permit to work for six months, an Assyrian Christian is given a permit to work for a month. There were many cases that came to us complaining about that,” she said. “They said, ‘They make us go back over and over again and sometimes they deny the permit that we are given on a monthly basis.'”
Taimoorazy explained that the Iraqi Christian Relief Council went to Kurdistan about a month ago and most of the Christians whom her organization spoke with expressed a desire to ultimately return home to the Nineveh Plain one day. But after speaking with Kurdish generals, Taimoorazy said that the only way the peshmerga will liberate Christian lands is to claim them as Kurdish lands.
“Our ancestral homeland is the Nineveh plain. When we met with the Peshmerga generals, many of them were very much not in favor of the Assyrians and the Yazidis and the Turkmen Shiites having their own province,” Taimoorazy said. “We have to fight against that here in the West. It is absolutely to be detrimental to Assyrians if we are completely tied to Erbil.”
I give a lot of talks over the years on a broad range of Catholic-affiliated topics. Some people asked me to put together some items in honor of our Independence Day and the role of Catholics in the 13 Colonies. It’s worth noting though that the oldest parish in the US is actually where I live, in New Mexico: San Juan Bautista opened in 1598 in Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo! These founding colonies, which united themselves in 1776 as the United States, were all under British rule. At the time of our revolution, the British Empire was the most powerful nation on earth, and already widespread. There were more Catholics in the British Caribbean than on the mainland, but the Church was very much present.
The main problem for Catholics under British rule were the harsh Penal Laws, which were designed to exterminate the Catholic religion and force its followers into the Church of England. These Laws were put into force in the colonies of the Atlantic coast. Anti-Catholicism today remains the one acceptable prejudice in America: a comedian can mock our most sacred teachings and do so with no fear of rebuke. Do the same to Jews or Muslims, watch out!
Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity, Maura Jane Farrelly, Oxford, 2012. The title alone is bold: very few Americans were ready to believe that the Papists could be patriots in league with them.
Papist Devils: Catholics in British America, Robert Emmett Curran, Catholic University, 2014. Covers all the colonies from Jamaica to conquered Quebec.
In both of these works, you will find a fascinating history of how Catholics survived: most saw a priest infrequently, Catholic prayers could be denounced as witchcraft (especially in Massachusetts), books were expensive and few. Many Catholics who were sold as slaves or indentured servants died without the sacraments and eventually drifted into Protestantism. But there was a solid core of English, Scots, Irish, German, and Africans who built chapels, sought out priests, and slowly and painfully built a flourishing Church.
Maryland was founded as a refuge for Catholics, who in turn gave sanctuary to persecuted Anglicans and Puritans. These turned on their benefactors, and cruelly sought their destruction in 1704. But the laity and Jesuits endured, and Catholic Maryland endures today. The Carroll family produced the only Catholic signer of the Declaration Independence (Charles Carroll), and his cousin, Father John Carroll, SJ, would become our first bishop, and then first archbishop (at Baltimore).
Archbishop John Carroll
Pennsylvania was a refuge for all believers, and home to strong German and Irish Catholic populations. The oldest Catholic parish in the Thirteen Colonies is Old Saint Joseph’s in Philadelphia.
Priests spent most of the year traveling, ministering to scattered settlements and small industrial centers in Maryland, northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond. Here http://www.oldstjoseph.org/documents/NotesfromtheAlley.pdf you can read about the heroic labors of Father Ferdinand Steinmayer, better known as Father Farmer, who served not only in the safer areas of Pennsylvania and Maryland, but was intrepid enough to minister across northern New Jersey and eventually founded New York City’s first parish, Saint Peter.
Here are some interesting resources
The Jesuits came to the colonies in 1634 – despised and feared in Britain, they found refuge in Maryland through the kindness of the Calvert family. They became the core of the Catholic clergy; when the Order was temporarily suppressed these men stayed at their posts.
Old Saint Joseph Church, the oldest parish in the Thirteen Colonies, opened in Philadelphia in 1733, served by Jesuit missionaries. It had to be built behind a courtyard and wall as Catholic buildings could not be open to the street where all could see! But the construction of an actual public chapel for Catholic worship was presented to the colony’s ruling council as being dangerous and seditious: there was “no small concern to hear that a House lately built in Walnut Street.was sett apart for the Exercise of the Roman Catholick Religion and it is commonly called the Romish Chappell . where Mass [is] openly celebrated by a Popish priest.contrary to the Laws of England.” But the Council decided that Penn’s “Holy Experiment” meant that even Papist Catholics could find refuge, and history was made. A plaque at the church today records that when the parish was recognized, it was the only place in the English-speaking world where Mass could be publicly offered.
Old Saint Mary Church, the second oldest English parish in the Colonies, built in 1763. Many members of the Continental Congress attended Mass and devotions there for the first time in their lives. http://www.oldstmary.com/
German chapels were built at Conewago and Goshenhoppen, Pennsylvania. Then Saint Mary’s in Lancaster was established, flourishing in 1757 with 212 Germans and 49 Irish.
Historic Saint Mary, Lancaster
Saint John the Evangelist, at Silver Spring in Maryland, became that state’s first open parish in 1774. I could take the Metro out there from my seminary – beautiful chapel used today by a Latin Mass parish, Polish parish, and St. John’s parishioners as well, who also have a modern church nearby. Diversity of Roman Catholic America!
New York City has been a cosmopolitan port from its foundation by the Dutch. English Catholics had freed for only a few years, 1683-1691. After the “Glorious Revolution” in Britain overthrew the Catholic king, Penal Laws resumed in New York, and Catholic priests were banned in 1700. Father Farmer came only in the 1750s to celebrate clandestine Masses for the very few faithful. The top floor of a carpenter’s shop served as a hidden chapel, with Mass being offered there through 1783. The ban was lifted after the Revolution succeeded and British power finally left New York, in 1784, and local Catholics immediately appeared: French, Spanish, Irish, German, Portuguese united to open the church of Saint Peter in 1785. http://spcolr.org/st-peters-church-history
The first religious service in honor of our independence was not held by the Puritans or Anglicans, but by the Catholics, at Old Saint Mary Church. The courtesy of General Washington who forbade his soldiers to continue anti-Catholic activities like Guy Fawkes Day and who incorporated Catholics into his personal guard set the tone for the rest of the revolution. Catholic France and Spain recognized the republic, Catholic soldiers from Poland and the German states led our troops. Anti-Catholic laws lasted in New England until the 1830s, but eventually they were all undone.
High Altar with Crucifixion, Old Saint Joseph’s Church
John Adams, a firm New Englander who was raised as a Congregationalist, attended Mass in Philadelphia on several occasions, for civic events and special services for Catholics involved in the revolution. One of his letters to his wife describes the scene before him, which he found awe-inspiring while still disturbing:
he poor wretches fingering their beads, chanting Latin, not a word of which they understood, their Pater Nosters and Ave Marias. Their holy water– their crossing themselves perpetually– their bowing to the name of Jesus wherever they hear it– their bowings, and kneelings, and genuflections before the altar. The dress of the priest was rich with lace– his pulpit was velvet and gold. The altar piece was very rich– little images and crucifixes about– wax candles lighted up. But how shall I describe the picture of our Saviour in a frame of marble over the altar, at full length, upon the cross in the agonies, and the blood dropping and streaming from his wounds. [see photo above]The music consisting of an organ, and a Choir of singers, went all the afternoon, excepting sermon Time, and the Assembly chanted– most sweetly and exquisitely.
Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination. Everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and the ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.”
In these troubled times for our country, as we face terror abroad and at home, as prejudice against not just Catholics but all Christians seems to be building, let us pray fervently for our country, for our leadership to adhere to solid Christian teachings in their actions, and that all those who were baptized into the Catholic faith would return to it if they left, or be even more on fire if they are still practicing. People from all over the world want to come to America, where anybody can find a home and live in freedom. May our republic fulfill the hopes of General Washington for Catholics when he wrote in 1790:
may the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.
MAKE HER KNOWN – With those words, Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to the care of the Redemptorist Order on this day in 1866. On that first day, as the icon was carried through Rome’s streets in procession, miracles took place, and miracles continue to this day as God answers prayers which the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (Mother of God) intercedes for under this title.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help
The icon came from Crete, which is where this type of Passion Icon was made. The man who brought this one to Rome either stole it or rescued it, and at his death he left it to a Roman family to give to a church. The mother decided to keep it, a big mistake, as Our Lady told the daughter of the house in three dreams, that she wanted the icon in the church of St. Matthew. Finally the mother relented, and presented the icon to the Augustinians who served the church, telling them that in the dream, Mary specifically gave the titleI am your Mother of Perpetual Help. You can read more about its adventures here: http://www.maryprayforus.org/home-of-the-icon/ ; suffice to say that it is now honored greatly in Rome. Everything in the icon has a meaning: this site does a good job of telling what the icon “says” to us: http://www.maryprayforus.org/iconguide/
As an icon given to a Latin Rite Order, this beautiful image of Mary and Jesus has served as a bridge to the East. The Redemptorists founded Eastern branches in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in 1913 at L’viv, and in 1921 in eastern Slovakia at Michalovce, which serves the Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church, to which I belong. In 1934, Pope Pius XI gave the Sisters of St. Basil the Great – Uniontown Province – a copy of this icon to promote pilgrimages for peace in the Church at a time when our Church in America was being torn by schism. These pilgrimages at Uniontown broughts tens of thousands of people on Labor Day weekend for The Otpust, the biggest Byzantine Catholic gathering in America. This continues today: the traditional litany of “O Mary help us, O Mary help us” has been repeated by so many people, and you can do the same at our parish on Wednesday nights.
The parish where I have been serving as pastor, 1985-2008, and as a helper pastor emeritus since then, is dedicated to Mary under this title. The church was founded by workers from Sandia Laboratories who were recruited from universities in Pennsylvania and Ohio. These different Byzantine Catholics met up with each other, and as they married and started families, they began to plan to have a church. A previous attempt by Melkites and different Slav-origin faithful to do so at the Mount Carmel church had failed in the 196os, but this time these young people decided to make it work. The Archdiocese granted use of the chapel at St. Pius X School, then on Louisiana NE, where Uptown shopping is today, and the Assumption church hall for fund-raising dinners and dancers. Some of the founding families were: Adamsko, Boccio, Drozdick, Dzek, Grega, Jakymiw, Novotny, Smith, Stevenson – it was already a diverse mix! You can read more about our history here:http://www.olphnm.org/#!history-of-olph/c103u
Since a majority came from Ruthenian parishes back East, the people wrote to Bishop Emil Mihalik of Parma, who had jurisdiction over the Western States for the Byzantine Catholic Metropolia to get their own priest, and to establish a parish named Our Lady of Perpetual Help, as Mary was definitely helping them move so quickly. While he agreed to work with them for a priest, he declined the name, writing that there were too many churches with that name. The laity persevered, and purchased a church with a residence and parking lot on Bell SE, in what now has the rather elaborate title International District, generally known as Trumbull. Bishop Mihalik sent Father John Kovach as the first pastor, and yielded to both the pressures of the faithful and the intercession of Mary, and the parish was given this glorious name, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and canonically established us in November, 1974 http://www.olphnm.org/ .
My first Divine Liturgy here was the feast of St. Elijah the Prophet on July 20, 1985. I blessed cars after the Liturgy, as Elijah is the patron of vehicles (due to his ascent to heaven in a fiery chariot!) and we were off! Bishop Thomas Dolinay told me to come here for a couple of years, and then he’d send me on to another church. But that never happened.
Ascent of Elijah to heaven in chariot of fire
The Perpetual Help icon has been the site of many prayers over the years, and many favors granted by God. Every Wednesday night, devout members of the parish gather at 5:30 PM to pray the traditional prayers and litany, and sing the popular Byzantine hymns in honor of Our Lady. Mary has blessed us in many ways, and under different titles, as you’ll see below!
One of the ladies in the parish always said that something wonderful would happen here. She was hoping for a miracle like the weeping icon of Mariapocs. We did not get that, but we have had many, many other blessings.
We have sent two women to the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist: Sister Teresa Benedicta Block, daughter of former cantor and choir director Steve Block; and Sister Victoria Marie Edge – https://www.sistersofmary.org/
Our pastor, Fr. Artur Bubnevych, carries the large Helper of Mothers icon in the March for Life, 2016.
Our Lady, Helper of Mothers – The original small icon came to our parish in 1997, and has been accompanied by miracles ever since: difficult pregnancies or childbirths ending safely; couples who had used all possible Church-approved methods of conception and still being childless, conceiving successfully. The large gold-covered icon was purchased by then-Father Kurt Burnette, and has been successfully presented at abortion clinics and resulting in some turnarounds and thus babies saved, or going to parishes and thus more couples finding out about this icon and the blessings accompanying it.
Our parish continues today – this year we had the biggest parish bazaar ever; half our membership is under 18 years of age; adult education, Knights of Columbus, choir, OLPHelpers for the women, Eastern Christian Formation for children, weekly prayers at the abortion clinic, weekly prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in church – it stands as a witness to Jesus Christ the High Priest, to our Catholic Faith expressed fully in the Byzantine Tradition, as a family of worshippers committed to living out the Faith as well as possible, and looking forward to the future.
Come by sometime – it’s a great church, and that lady was right – great things are happening here.
Praying in the ruins of St. George Church, al-Hasakah province, deliberately bombed by ISIS
The US has acknowledged that Christians are victims of genocide at the hands of Islamic State. Every day Middle Eastern news agencies report on another anti-Christian atrocity: beatings, robbery, kidnapping, sexual slavery, murder of people who refuse to renounce their Christian faith and destruction of churches that go back 1700 years. And our great and glorious Immigration service saw fit to admit … drum roll …
a grand total of TWO Christian refugees, and 1,035 Sunni Muslims. How these people in Washington sleep at night is beyond me. And you most certainly did not hear this story on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, or FOX.
Two people who believe in Jesus Christ were worthy of admission to our great nation? Two??
U.S. Admits 1,037 Syrian Refugees in May: 2 Christians, 1,035 Muslims
The number of Syrian refugees admitted into the United States jumped to 1,037 during May — an increase of 130 percent over the previous month — but the proportion of Christians among them remains miniscule: two Christians (0.19 percent) compared to 1,035 Muslims.
May’s figure of 1,037 Syrian refugees brings the total number since the beginning of 2016 to 2,099 — compared to 2,192 for the whole of 2015, according to State Department Refugee Processing Center data.
Earlier years since the Syrian civil war began saw much smaller numbers arriving — 20 in 2011 (dated from mid-March); 41 in 2012; 45 in 2013; and 249 in 2014.
Of the 2,099 Syrian refugees admitted so far this year, six (0.28 percent) are Christians, 2,043 (97.3 percent) are Sunni Muslims. The remaining 50 are 17 (0.8 percent) Shi’a, 30 (1.4 percent) other Muslims and 10 (0.47 percent) Yazidis.
Similar proportions are seen in the number of Syrian refugees having arrived in the U.S. since the start of fiscal year 2016: 2,773 in total, comprising 12 (0.4 percent) Christians, 2,703 (97.4 percent) Sunnis, 17 (0.6 percent) Shi’a, 30 (1.1 percent) other Muslims and 10 (0.3 percent) Yazidis.
And since the conflict erupted, of a total of 4,646 Syrian refugees admitted, 60 (1.3 percent) are Christians; 4,422 (95.1 percent) are Sunni Muslims. The remaining 163 include Shi’a, other Muslims, Zoroastrians, Baha’i, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Yazidi, and refugees identified as “other religion” or as having “no religion.”
Syrians of all faith and ethnic backgrounds have been fleeing their homeland, with almost five million now registered by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR as “persons of concern.”
They have done so to escape the violence and deprivation generally, or to get away specifically from ISIS, other jihadists rebel groups, or the Assad regime — which is itself a minority regime that has committed atrocities, including alleged war crimes, against majority Sunnis and others.
Although Syrians of all stripes have been affected, the number of Christians among those admitted into the U.S. — 1.3 percent — remains significantly smaller than the proportion of Christians in the total population when the war began — an estimated 10 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Last week, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the very small proportion of Christians among Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. “has got to change.”
He was speaking at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on steps that should be taken following Secretary of State John Kerry’s declaration last March that atrocities being carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in areas under its control constitutes genocide.
As CNSNews.com has reported previously, groups aiding Syrian Christians say many of those who have left the country avoid UNHCR refugee camps due to safety fears, seeking shelter instead with churches, charitable organizations or relatives in surrounding countries.
Since the U.S. relies on UNHCR referrals at the early stage of processing refugee status applications, Christians may as a result be disadvantaged. (if that is the case, you would think that we’d find a way to help people who are being butchered daily! But apparently we do not want Christians coming into our country)
The UNHCR has itself acknowledged that minorities “fear that registration might bring retribution from other refugees” in the camps.
It has also said that accommodation in a camp is not a requirement for refugees to be registered with the agency. (So if you can be considered a refugee while living in a Christian-run camp, why can’t we help those folks? In 1933-1940 it was anti-Semitism that kept Jews off our shores. What is it now??
The Church in the United States needs to “keep banging the pots and pans” as a follow-up to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s declaration that the Islamic State group is carrying out a genocide against Christians in the Middle East, says the head of a Christian humanitarian aid organization.
Kerry’s March 17 declaration, which identified religious minorities in Iraq and Syria as targets of ISIS’s campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing, came after months of debate and pressure from advocacy groups. But, according to George J. Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, there’s a sense that the declaration was the last the world will hear about it.
“It was like, ‘Okay, we’re done for the day. Let’s move on,’” Marlin said at a talk this week. “The question is what happens next.
“The Christian world, the Catholics in the United States, the bishops, have to bang the pots and pans loudly enough and say, ‘We are outraged by this. What is the West going to do?’” Marlin said in an interview after the talk, which he delivered Sunday at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, Conn.
“The first thing is humanitarian aid, which is very important, and to recognize that Christians are not going into the international camps,” he said, referring to a statement he made in his talk, that Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria fear the camps because of potential harassment from Islamic radicals in those camps. “I’m not going to play Henry Kissinger and get into all the foreign policy, but sooner or later the West is going to have to sit down with the moderate Muslim world, and until they decide that Islamic terrorism, radicalism, is wrong, it has to be crushed, we can never do enough to end it. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, of which a tiny minority are these radicals, so they’re going to have to get active. It was good to see the president of Egypt a year ago say to the mullahs, ‘You guys are going to have to get your act together and do something about this because this is wrong. So the Muslims are going to have to take the lead. The U.S. and the Western world can be a part of that in trying to encourage them. In the meantime we’ve got to help all these people because if it wasn’t for the institutional Church and all the Christians around the world and what we do, these people would be starving in the streets.”
At the same time, there is continuing tension between Christians determined to stay in their ancestral homelands and those who are trying to escape the miserable life ISIS has inflicted there. Aid to the Church in Need is supporting local Churches and Christian communities who are striving to maintain a presence in a land where the Church has been for almost 2,000 years.
It is a dilemma which Christian internally displaced persons staying in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan for the past two years may face if Mosul is liberated from ISIS control. Many of the Christian IDPs have said that even if the city is liberated, they would be reluctant to return because they feel their former Muslim neighbors betrayed them.
“I don’t have a sense of that at the moment, but what I do know is that people like Archbishop [Jean-Clement] Jeanbart [the Melkite archbishop of Aleppo, Syria] are urging their people to stay,” said Marlin, author of Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy. “We’ve been there for 2,000 years. The bishops I’ve met with are hoping to help rebuild, the money we’re raising is to help rebuild. So if ISIS is pushed out of these cities and towns and there is a sense of settlement there, I’m hoping Christians will stay and come back, but that remains to be seen.”
In Syria, ISIS was pushed out of the Christian city of Al-Qaryatayn, but a local priest expressed doubt that its inhabitants would return anytime soon, especially in light of revelations this week that the jihadists murdered local Christians and tortured those who would not convert to Islam.
“The residents who have fled, both Christians and Muslims, are afraid,” Father Jihad Yousef, a monk of the order of Mar Musa, told Aid to the Church in Need. “They fear that IS may come back again.”
I am posting this to follow up with an earlier one to put up authentic reports from the Christians of Iraq and Syria. At our invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians in Iraq numbered 8% of the Iraqi people, over 1.5 million souls. It is of course a disaster now as Daesh/ Islamic State seeks to destroy the entire past of the Middle East, the source of human civilization in ancient Mesopotamia, the land that was said to be the home of the Garden of Eden. This comes from the Chaldean Catholic Dominican Sisters, in an NCR story posted at http://www.aina.org/. AINA is an excellent source as to what is happening to all Assyrian/ Syriac Christians: Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Church of the East, and the other communities (Latin, Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholic and Gregorian).
The following account of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena-Iraq flight from ISIS is the result of multiple interviews of Dominican Srs. Maria Hanna, Superior, and Huda Chito, Principal, of the Al Bishara School (Annunciation School) for internally displaced Christians. The grade school is located in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. A CNEWA interpreter translated the interview of Sister Maria from Arabic.For almost 150 years the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena-Iraq (Dominican Sisters) have served the Iraqi Christian community. They also strived to serve all Iraqis, including Muslims, as equals. The order’s charism is education, but by necessity their service to the community is broader, as they also care for the poor and the sick. The sisters are mostly located in northern Iraq, especially in Mosul and Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city in Iraq. The Dominican Sisters have a long and rich history of service and presence in Iraq, as further described on their website. NCR’s sister publication, Global Sisters Report, has published several articles about them, one of which can be found here.
Early experiences of ISIS
In 2003, a mortar shell struck the convent in Qaraqosh. The explosion did not kill any of the sisters in the house, but it knocked them out of their beds. One unexploded ordinance remained inside the convent until an expert came and took it away. The sisters continued to experience intermittent shelling over the next few years from ISIS.
Ten years later the sisters began to sense a change was taking place. They consistently had good relations with their Muslim neighbors. Qaraqosh was the center of Christian presence in Iraq and the sisters taught in schools. Many of the students and teachers were from neighboring Muslim villages. The sisters considered them friends because the sisters knew these people.
Parents of the children say, “Merry Christmas,” to the sisters on the holiday. Relations with Muslims were extremely good in the neighborhood. It was not a closed community, as if living in a ghetto. The sisters would open up to their neighbors, but when ISIS came to Mosul, they felt tension in relations with their neighbors. They didn’t know why. They didn’t understand what happened exactly but they started becoming afraid that maybe the Muslim neighbors were becoming fanatics and could pose a danger to them.
The sisters began to plan for a potential problem with ISIS or those Muslims neighbors that might support ISIS.
At the motherhouse in Mosul — located in a difficult area of the city — the sisters maintained a cemetery behind the convent where the remains of 25 sisters were buried. It was not an officially approved cemetery, but one they had for many years. As concern about ISIS began to grow, the sisters decided to move the remains to their convent in Qaraqosh. However, they did not want to create any problems with the Muslim authorities in Mosul. They devised a plan they thought might work.
In the early hours of the 2013 Ramadan feast day celebrating the end of 30 days of fasting when devout Muslims visit families and enjoy a large meal, including sweets, the sisters dug up the 25 graves and wrapped the remains — some consisted of just a few bones, while others were full skeletons — and placed them in a single pick-up truck covered with camouflage.
Without being noticed, the sisters left at 6 a.m. and drove the remains to Qaraqosh to their new motherhouse where 50 sisters live. They held a Mass of re-internment and buried the sisters in a new grave at an official, public cemetery with their names listed on a single cross.
In early June 2014, ISIS attacked the city of Mosul, Iraq, which triggered a massive exodus from that city, and later from towns like Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city in Iraq, and nearby villages like Bashiqa. Some 500,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) raced for safety and shelter in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Over 250,000 IDPs, some of whom are Christian minorities, arrived in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.
ISIS kidnapped Chaldean sisters and three orphans. All the Dominican Sisters remaining in Mosul felt there was something terribly wrong, that there is real danger here.
All Christians, including the sisters, had three choices: To pay a Christian tax, convert to Islam or leave to save their lives.
Some Muslim families who remained close to the sisters told them, “Don’t stay. You are in danger. And don’t listen to those who are assuring you that you’re are okay. There is risk to your lives and for all Christians, so it’s best to leave.”
On June 8, 2014, the sisters left Mosul.
They didn’t have means of transportation and they couldn’t just get a taxi so they went to the Chaldean church in Mosul, along with 30 other people, some of whom were lay people and some priests. There was only one bus available for 14 people, but they had to squeeze in 30 people in order to evacuate.
They couldn’t get to Qaraqosh because the road was too dangerous so the only place they could go to was a village called Bashiqa, 20 minutes away from Mosul to the northeast. They left at 10:30 p.m., but because there was so many people traveling and checkpoints set up by ISIS that they had to avoid, they finally got to Bashiqa at 5 a.m. extremely tired and afraid.
The Christian community in Qaraqosh and in the surrounding Christian villages were assured by the Peshmerga — the Kurdish fighters — that the Christian villages would be protected and that there was no way that ISIS would come and occupy the villages. The Kurds would be there to protect them.
Peshmerga’s promise of protection was publicly-announced on radios and TVs. It was also conveyed in conversations with the bishops and the representative of the Kurds in that area. As a result, Christians considered themselves safe in Qaraqosh and in 14 different villages around Qaraqosh.
But things got remarkably worse.
Five Christian villages received heavy shelling. ISIS demanded to be paid the Christian tax or the shelling would continue.
In a nearby Chaldean Christian village, which had a large Muslim community, a priest was going to check on the needs of the people who were leaving and was shot in the head and killed by either an ISIS fighter or sympathizer from the community. The whole Christian community was really afraid.
During the third week of June 2014, the sisters hurriedly collected their archives, and Sister Huda spent the entire day making four 30-mile round trips from Qaraqosh to Ankawa, in order to transfer and protect them.
August 6, 2014 — Displacement day
After the shelling on the five or six Christina villages, people fled, and now Christians in Qaraqosh were leaving for Erbil and other areas.
Sr. Maria Hanna, the Dominican’s superior, spoke by phone to Mosul’s Syrian-Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche. He assured the sisters that the Kurds were going to protect them, not to be afraid, not to panic and that, “Whatever you hear, don’t believe it.” Mouche had been assured in meetings with the Kurdish leaders that the Peshmerga were going to protect them.
In the early hours of August 6, 2014, after morning Mass, Qaraqosh received three shellings that killed two children and one young woman. Within three hours of the killings, the whole community of Qaraqosh left town– except the sisters
That evening they had dinner and evening prayer. Sister Maria then gathered them and said, “Well it looks like a dangerous situation and I will leave to your choice if you want to go to Ankawa, to Erbil. You can do it. Some of us will stay, but if you want to go, you may.” None of the sisters left.
Around 9 p.m., they received a call from a brother of one of the sisters who used to work with the Peshmerga and he warned his sister, and all the sisters, that it was too dangerous to stay, that the Peshmerga have already have left and withdrawn their troops. “You should leave at this moment,” her brother said.
Sister Maria immediately called Archbishop Mouche and told him that she had news from a trusted source about the urgency to leave and asked the archbishop what he thought. “I’m sitting here with my priests in the garden and everything is beautiful and there is nothing to fear,” Mouche said. “I have information from political sources that there is nothing to fear.”
Fifteen minutes later, the sisters received another call from the same brother. “Leave at this moment. You are in great danger,” he said.
At 10:30 p.m. Sister Maria gathered all the sisters again, as Qaraqosh was in chaos. The phones were not working anymore, so they couldn’t contact Archbishop Mouche. The sisters decided to leave.
Sister Maria started gathering the sisters, including some Franciscan sisters, who didn’t have any means of transportation. Other Dominican sisters were on vacation or visiting families, some were in other villages.
By 11 p.m. the sisters went to their rooms to pack small bags of whatever they would need for two days because there was no place in the van for big suitcases. They thought they would be back after a few days’ time.
Before midnight, they went to the church and prayed in front of the Eucharist. She left one Host at the church and she prayed, “Lord please protect this house and this village.”
Thirty-five sisters, four families and two orphans squeezed themselves into two vans and two small cars and left Qaraqosh.
They came upon other Christians walking, some on donkeys and some on bicycles. “It was a river of people, thousands of people walking slowly out of Qaraqosh,” said Sister Maria.
It was some 20 miles to the next Christian village. When they arrived at that village, the scene is the same: People walking in the desert. When they arrived on the major highway leading to Erbil, they saw their fellow sisters coming from another village.
Even though Erbil was only about thirty miles away from Qaraqosh, they didn’t arrive until 10 a.m. the next day.
In the Erbil suburb of Ankawa, some 30 elderly sisters between the ages of 70 to 75 years of age were living in an old convent. For many months they were excited because a new convent was being built in Qaraqosh and these sisters would have a new home to live out their later years.
As the mass exodus of Christians descended on Ankawa on August 7, 2014, so did a bitter and traumatic reality. The elderly sisters were not going anywhere.
“When we finally met these sisters, they cried and we cried,” said Sister Huda.
Ankawa became a chaotic environment, of thousands of Christians homeless, shelterless and hungry.
The sisters got organizing. They began taking a census of the displaced and identifying immediate needs. They continued to accompany their people.
Shortly after they arrived in Ankawa, the sisters were trying to organize an outdoor Mass. They could not find a suitable altar cloth. One sister removed the scapular (a Christian garment worn over the shoulders) she was wearing and laid it on the ground. It served as an altar cloth. They placed a cup and a chalice on it, and Mass began for some 200 people.
“It was both touching and sad,” said Sister Huda. “But by the grace of God, we can do so many things,” she said.
Afterwards the sisters went to the market, bought some cloth and sewed enough altar cloths for each of the altars at the camps for the internally displaced Iraqi Christians.
The stress of the mass exodus from Qaraqosh to Ankawa had a terrible impact on the elderly sisters living in Ankawa. They began to suffer heart attacks and heart failures. Over the past 18 months, 23 elderly Dominican sisters have died, sometimes up to three deaths a week. “They died of a broken heart,” said Sister Huda.
It is the custom of the Dominican sisters that when a sister dies, her scapular is subsequently used by another sister as a way to remember the deceased.
Four Syriac Catholic seminarians will be ordained as transitional deacons in a Christian refugee camp in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. They chose this step themselves, as 90% of the faithful of their Church are now refugees either inside Iraq or outside.
In following Christ, we are called to do or accept things that are not pleasant, even painful. They could have stayed in the relative safety of Lebanon for this ceremony, but want to be with their people, imitating Christ. As we walk through this Holy Week of the Passion, let us lift up in prayer the descendants of the first Christians who are suffering unbelievable persecution, and also those Muslims who dare to convert to faith in Christ at the risk of violent deaths at the hands of their own families. We are so blessed – hopefully we can make this Holy Week truly holy for ourselves and those around us.
These Assyrian Seminarians Are Being Ordained — in a Refugee Camp
After their seminary in Qaraqosh was dissolved following a brutal ISIS attack in 2014, four Iraqi seminarians chose not to give up after being forced to flee, but to continue their path to the priesthood.Now, a year and a half after the attack that uprooted them from their homes, the four men will be ordained deacons, and have chosen a church in an Erbil refugee camp for the March 19 ceremony.
“People want hope, and when they see that there are four young people who will become deacons and after a few months they will priests, that will give them hope and the power to stay,” Remi Marzina Momica told CNA March 17.
Momica is one of the four seminarians from the Syriac Catholic Church of Mosul who will be ordained Saturday. All of them formerly studied at St. Ephraim’s seminary in the mainly Christian city of Qaraqosh, which is now under the control of ISIS.
The young seminarians were forced to flee the city when the militants attacked on Aug. 6, 2014, driving out inhabitants who didn’t meet their demands to convert to Islam, pay a hefty tax or face death.
Before being forced to leave Qaraqosh, Momica and his sister were among the victims wounded in a 2010 bombing of buses transporting mainly Christian college students from the Plains of Nineveh to the University of Mosul, where they were enrolled in classes.
Since the Qaraqosh seminary has been closed following the 2014 attack, the four seminarians were sent to finish their studies at the Al-Sharfa Seminary in Harissa, Lebanon.
The only seminary left in Iraq providing formation for diocesan priests in the country is the Chaldean rite’s St. Peter Patriarchal seminary for the Chaldean Patriarchate in Erbil. Archbishop Bashar Warda is the Chaldean Archbishop who oversees the Erbil diocese.
After completing their studies in Lebanon, the four Syriac Catholic rite seminarians returned to Iraq for their ordination.
Momica, whose family fled to Erbil, where they are still renting a small house, said he and the other three seminarians told their bishop that they specifically wanted their ordination to take place in a refugee camp, “because we are refugees.”
“We want our people to know, we want to tell everyone that there are young people who will become priests,” he said, explaining that the event will be a sign of hope for the Christians who are left.
Fr. Giorgio Kahona, the priest in charge of accompanying the four men until their deaconate ordination, told CNA that the church where the ordination will take place sits in a refugee camp in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil.
The large church welcomes refugees in for daily and Sunday Masses, he said, adding that the seminarians “chose this church specifically to demonstrate their closeness to the people who suffer.”
He said they invited “the entire Church” to participate in the ordination, including bishops, priests and laity from other rites.
Archbishop Yohanno Petros Moshe, Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Kirkuk and Kurdistan, is the seminarians’ bishop, and will be the one to ordain them.
Other concelebrants will include bishops from other churches, including the Chaldean and Orthodox churches, he said, adding that in this sense, “it will become a communion around the altar, around Christ.”
Fr. Kahona said 90 percent of the Syriac-Catholic faithful in the Erbil diocese are refugees, so seeing the ordination of four young men will give hope to the local Church.
It will also give hope to the universal Church, he said, because “despite the difficulty, there are vocations, youth, who give themselves for the Church, to serve the people of God. This is important in our times.”
Sharing his personal feelings on his ordination, Momica said he is both happy for the new step in his vocational life, but also sad that many of his family members won’t be able to be there.
“I am very happy to become a deacon, I am so happy! But I am so sad because I am so far away from my town, from my seminary in Qaraqosh, and we lost many people,” he said.
The seminarian said that the thought of serving the Church fills him with joy, but that there is also a deep sadness “because there are many people who won’t be there at the time of my ordination.”
While his immediate family is with him in Erbil, Momica’s other relatives left after ISIS began their siege.
The seminarian, who currently works with refugees, said that he would like to stay in Erbil after his ordination so that he can be with his family and other members of his Church.
“I want to stay here in Iraq and I want to know if there is anyone who can help us to stay, to speak with the governments outside to see if they can help us to stay here,” he said.
With the future of Christianity in Iraq uncertain, there are many who want to stay, but don’t see a clear solution in sight, he said.
“Our people want to see what the future is here in Iraq for Christians. And…we don’t know the future of Christians here in Iraq,” Momica said, but added that despite the uncertainty, there are still people who are willing to give it a shot.