Posted by: Fr Chris | July 12, 2016

US Attitudes Towards Christians of Middle East

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’

By Samuel Smith

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.”

Posted by: Fr Chris | July 3, 2016

Fourth of July – Catholics in the Colonies

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  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.

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!

Holy Trinity, the first German Catholic parish, founded in 1784 in Philadelphia:

German Catholic Missionaries in Maryland: fascinating look at the lives of these intrepid missionaries.

New Jersey’s Catholic history begins  in the south, when Belgian glassblowers were brought over.  Father Theodore Schneider, SJ, left Baltimore to celebrate Mass and Baptisms in Salem County in 1743.  Northern New Jersey saw its first priest with Father Farmer, who made his first foray into the colony in 1763, to serve the German, Slovak, and Polish colonists who labored at the first ironworks in the Ramapo region. Read more here:

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.

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 title I am your Mother of Perpetual Help. You can read more about its adventures here: ; 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:

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.

Church interior 

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:!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 .

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.

There are four priests from this parish that has never numbered more than 90 households: Fathers Michael O’Loughlin, pastor at Holy Protection   and Vocation Director of the Eparchy of the Holy Protection of Mary  ; Brian Escobedo, Nathaniel Block for the Diocese of Gallup, and Tyler Strand (who serves two parishes:;

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 –

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
By Patrick Goodenough

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 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?? 

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 16, 2016

Yes, Islamic State is committing genocide: now what?

Why Silence After Kerry’s Genocide Declaration? Church Must Keep Making Noise, Advocate Says

“Keep banging the pots and pans,” George Marlin advises

Security Council Holds Meeting On Countering Terrorism During The United Nations General Assembly

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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.”

– See more at:

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 15, 2016

Flight of the Sisters: One Story From Iraq

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 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).

Syndicated News
Dominican Sisters Recount Their Flight From ISIS
By Tom Gallagher
The Dominican Sisters arriving for Mass at the Syriac Catholic Al Bishara Church at Aishty 1 Camp for internally displaced Christians, Ankawa, Iraq. ( NCR/Tom Gallagher)

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.

Today, ISIS lives in the motherhouse in Qaraqosh.

Posted by: Fr Chris | March 20, 2016

Following in Jesus’ Footsteps

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

By Elise Harris
Iraqi Assyrian seminarians. Photo courtesy of Remi Momica, second from the left.

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.

Kerry did it a day after Congress’ deadline, but he finally said that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians. Only after intense lobbying by a broad mix of Christians, did our government make this statement. Why did it take so long, and why was it even an issue?? But with this declaration, the Christians will get special assistance, along with the Yazidi, Turkmen, and other groups. It’s great that he did it, but again – why was there even a question in the minds of our leaders that Christians were being systematically butchered and expelled??

From Aleteia:

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared Thursday that the Islamic State group is responsible for genocide against Christians and several other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq.

Kerry made the remarks in a carefully worded statement he delivered at the State Department in Washington, a day after a congressionally mandated deadline for State to issue its findings and in the wake of much lobbying for a declaration that includes Christians.

“My purpose in appearing before you today is to assert that, in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians and Shia Muslims,” he said, using “Daesh,” an Arabic-language derogatory nickname for ISIS. “Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions — in what it says, what it believes and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities.”

Kerry said that in places like Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, ISIS has “executed Christians solely because of their faith,” and that it has forced Christian women and girls into sexual slavery. He said the Sunni extremist group “has made a systematic effort to destroy the cultural heritage of ancient communities — destroying Armenian, Syrian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches; blowing up monasteries and the tombs of prophets; desecrating cemeteries; and in Palmyra, even beheading the 83-year-old scholar who had spent a lifetime preserving antiquities there. … We know that Daesh has threatened Christians by saying that it will, quote, ‘conquer your Rome, break your crosses and enslave your women.’”

One element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group, in whole or in part, he explained. “We know that Daesh has given some of its victims a choice between abandoning their faith or being killed, and that for many is a choice between one kind of death and another,” Kerry acknowledged. “The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia.”

He said that at this point, while ISIS still controls vast areas of Iraq and Syria, it’s impossible to get a complete view of the situation. “Ultimately, the full facts must be brought to light by an independent investigation and through formal legal determination made by a competent court or tribunal,” the secretary said. “But the United States will strongly support efforts to collect, document, preserve and analyze the evidence of atrocities, and we will do all we can to see that the perpetrators are held accountable.”

In addition to defeating the Islamists and documenting their crimes, explained Kerry, efforts must be made to get to the root cause of the genocide and prevent future occurrences of it.

“The best response to genocide is a reaffirmation of the fundamental right to survive of every group targeted for destruction,” he said. “What Daesh wants to erase, we must preserve. That requires defeating Daesh, but it also demands the rejection of bigotry and discrimination — those things that facilitated its rise in the first place.

“This means that, as more areas are liberated, residents will need help not only to repair infrastructure, but also to ensure that minorities can return in safety, that they are integrated into local security forces, and that they receive equal protection under the law. Our goal, after all, is not just to defeat Daesh, only to find that in a few years some new terrorist group with a different acronym has taken its place. Our purpose is to marginalize and defeat violent extremists once and for all.”

Veteran international religious freedom advocate Nina Shea applauded Kerry’s move, calling it a “critically important step.”

“Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense,” said Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, in a column for National Review. “Legally, it is known as the ‘crime of crimes.’ And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to ‘prevent and protect’ against genocide, the conscience does.”

The statement seemed calculated not to single out Christians as the victims of genocide; it spoke about attacks on Kurds, Shiites and Turkmens as well. Aides said that Kerry does not want to fuel perceptions that the United States is engaged in a modern-day crusade against global Islam, according to The Washington Post.

NBC said that a key issue facing the administration is whether it will be obligated to take action to stop the genocide.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner previously had said a genocide determination in ISIS’ case “would not necessarily result in any particular legal obligation for the United States.”

CNN said that Kerry’s declaration does not legally obligate the U.S. to take any particular action, but it could put pressure on the Obama administration to take more aggressive military action against ISIS.

“It could also give weight to calls by other lawmakers and humanitarian groups pushing the Obama administration to welcome more refugees into the United States,” the news outlet said.

Republicans and Democrats in the House joined together 393-0 to back a “sense of Congress,” saying the crimes committed against Christians, Yazidis and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region amount to war crimes and, in some cases, genocide.

Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, whose Nebraska district is home to the largest group of resettled Yazidis in the U.S., authored the resolution with California Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo …

“I commend Secretary Kerry and the State Department for making this important designation,” Fortenberry said Thursday. “The genocide against Christians, Yazidis and others is not only a grave injustice to theses ancient faith communities, it is an assault on human dignity and an attack on civilization itself. The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority.”

Also welcoming Kerry’s declaration was Robert Nicholson, executive director of the Philos Project.

“It was a full recognition, naming Christians more than once,” Nicholson said in an interview. Kerry “really laid out some tentative ideas for what’s next. He very explicitly called for protecting these minority communities, making a way for them to return home once those areas are liberated from ISIS control, securing their future in their ancestral homeland.”

Nicholson noted that his organization and the Iraqi Christian Relief Council have pushed for a safe haven for Christians in Iraq and Syria, “not just shipping them out of the region” as refugees.

The next thing would be referring this matter to the United Nations Security Council and have the same finding there, which would really trigger a global response and up the ante in terms of destroying ISIS,” Nicholson said.

Douglas Napier, senior counsel and executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom International, said in a statement that the U.S. has an “influential role to play in supporting a referral to the International Criminal Court to condemn and prosecute the perpetrators. Once it is recognized that genocide is happening, the 147 countries who are party to the UN Genocide Convention, including the U.S., have an obligation to do all they can to bring the killing of innocent people to an end.”

But U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the House panel that oversees global human rights, said the International Criminal Court would  be ineffective and that it would be better if the US would work with the UN Security Council to set up an ad hoc regional tribunal. Regional tribunals, he said, proved effective in Sierra Leone, where nine people were convicted; Rwanda, where 61 were convicted, and the former Yugoslavia, where a tribunal convicted 80 people.

“Moreover, a tribunal focused on Syria that provides Syrians with a degree of ownership would enhance its effectiveness,” Smith said in a statement. “A Syria tribunal would hold not only the genocidiers of ISIS but all parties — especially the war criminal Bashar al-Assad, who has barrel-bombed Syrian civilians and killed tens of thousands — accountable for their horrific deeds.”

The Knights of Columbus, which earlier in the week had issued a nearly 300-page report with new evidence that they said supported a declaration of Christian genocide, issued a statement in which Supreme Knight Carl Anderson called Kerry’s determination “correct and truly historic.”

“For one of the few times in our history, the United States has designated an ongoing situation as genocide, and the State Department is to be commended for having the courage to say so,” Anderson said. “By joining its voice to that of the House of Representatives, the American people, and the international community, the United States today makes clear to ISIS that its attempt to stamp out religious minorities must cease. The United States and the world are united on this and simply will not look the other way.”

For one Christian leader of a Church based in the Middle East, Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, the declaration sends a message to all those suffering “that we not only feel their pain, but that we stand together to recognize their suffering and support them in whatever way we can.”

“This is a significant step, that follows the European Union recognition of genocide, that I hope will encourage [the British] government to also recognize these unacceptable acts of genocide against vulnerable communities in the Middle East,” Bishop Angaelos said.


John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.

– See more at:

– See more at:,%202016%2002:01%20pm#sthash.RLIvLxI7.dpuf

Our Government STILL won’t acknowledge what is being done to Middle East Christians!

Petition Urges Secretary of State to Name Middle East Christians as Genocide Victims

Kerry has until March 16 to make designation

Secretary of State John Kerry, center, shakes hand with James B. Cunningham U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan in Kabul airport, Afghanistan, on Monday, March 25, 2013. Kerry arrived in Kabul for an official visiting from Afghanistan. (Photo by Musadeq Sadeq/U.S. State Department)

Musadeq Sadeq/U.S. State Department CC

As news broke Monday of a plan for a ceasefire in Syria, observers are still fearful that the US State Department will ignore Christians in an expected designation of genocide in the Middle East.

Now, a new effort will try to push Secretary of State John F. Kerry to not leave Christians out.

A petition launched by In Defense of Christians and the Knights of Columbus is urging Kerry not to exclude Christians from a declaration of genocide at the hands ISIS. The petition can be signed at

“Christians in Iraq and Syria have suffered injustice after injustice by being kidnapped, killed, having their homes and churches confiscated or destroyed, and being forced to flee for their lives. Because of jihadist hit squads, they fear to enter UN refugee camps and, as a result, are then often excluded from immigration to the West,” said Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, who testified on the matter before a congressional subcommittee in December. “After all of this, these people deserve to have the U.S. State Department call what has happened to them by its rightful name: genocide — just as the European Parliament, Pope Francis, USCIRF and so many other prominent individuals and institutions have already done.”

The State Department is required by law to make a designation one way or the other on the matter by mid-March.

Noting the “extensive and irrefutable evidence” that the so-called Islamic State’s actions toward Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yazidis and other vulnerable minorities, meet the criteria outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the petition explains that the evidence includes:

• assassinations of Church leaders

• mass murders and deportations

• torture

• kidnapping for ransom

• sexual enslavement and systematic rape of girls and women

• forcible conversions to Islam

• destruction of Christian churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and artifacts
The petition also notes that ISIS’ own public statements take “credit” for the murder of Christians precisely because they are Christian and express its intent to wholly eradicate Christian and other minority communities from its “Islamic State.”

In a common declaration signed in Havana Feb. 12, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church stated that in Iraq and Syria “whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated.” The week before, the European Parliament passed a resolution declaring that ISIS “is committing genocide against Christians and Yazidis” and “other religious and ethnic minorities.”

In a recent op-ed for National Review, international religious freedom activist Nina Shea explained that in October the State Department leaked information that it would be issuing a designation of genocide, but recognize only Yazidis as victims. “This prompted Congress to mandate that Secretary John Kerry make a determination by March 16 on the precise question of whether “persecution . . . of Christians and people of other religions in the Middle East by violent Islamic extremists . . . constitutes genocide,” wrote Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. “Whether the official U.S. list of genocide victims includes or excludes Christians will affect the persecuted Christians enormously: in raising humanitarian aid, receiving asylum, overcoming de facto discrimination in U.N. resettlement programs, receiving restitution and reparation for seized land, and securing a place at the peace-negotiations table. It would also give these two-millennia-old Christian communities a sense of justice – something that still matters greatly to the families of Holocaust victims and that eludes the Armenian community.”

– See more at:

Posted by: Fr Chris | February 20, 2016

Ukrainian Greek Catholics on the Pope-Patriarch Declaration

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church had a strong reaction to the document, which basically is what the theologians in Rome and Moscow could agree on. The leader of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav (Shevchuk), had this to say: This text has caused deep disappointment among many faithful of our church and among conscientious citizens of Ukraine. Today, many contacted me about this and said that they feel betrayed by the Vatican, disappointed by the half-truth nature of this document, and even see it as indirect support by the Apostolic See for Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

The archbishop said the two sides “existed on two completely different planes and were pursuing different goals.” “His Holiness Pope Francis experienced this encounter primarily as a spiritual event,” while “From the Moscow patriarch, one immediately sensed that this wasn’t about any Spirit, or theology or actual religious matters.”

Speaking of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who drew up the declaration, Archbishop Shevchuk said it was “hard to imagine a weaker team” and they had been “exploited” during the drafting process by the Russian Orthodox Department of External Affairs.

Archbishop Schevchuk said he was not consulted in the drafting of the document, despite being a member of the Pontifical Council. As has happened before, he said, “they spoke about us without us, without giving us a voice.”

As to the two paragraphs concerning Ukraine (nos. 25 and 26), he welcomed the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate now recognizes the right of Ukrainian Greek Catholics to exist. Until now, it has demanded from the Vatican a virtual ban on their existence (but he pointed out that to exist, they are “not obliged to ask permission from anybody.”)

He also welcomed the recognition that Orthodox and Greek Catholics are in “need of reconciliation” and “mutually acceptable forms of co-existence.” This, he hoped, could lead to better bilateral relations “without interference from Moscow”.

But Archbishop Schevchuk was displeased with paragraph 26, saying that it merely refers to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a part of Ukraine, in 2014, as a “conflict” rather than act of aggression against a neighboring state. He pointed out that were it not for the blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church, the annexation and war that followed wouldn’t have taken place. He said he had the impression the Moscow Patriarchate was either “stubbornly refusing” to admit that it is a party to the separatist war in eastern Ukraine, or that it openly supported Russia aggression. —

Read more:;


[For a more detailed study, see below  by Fr. Andrei Chirovsky, courtesy of CRUX, written in advance. I have highlighted some important sentences to help the reader focus. – fcz]

CRUX EDITOR’S NOTE: In much of the world, Friday’s historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Havana, Cuba, will be hailed as a breakthrough. Attitudes are more mixed, however, in Ukraine, long the front line of tensions between Catholics and the Russian Orthodox.

There, the 5-million-strong Greek Catholic Church has suffered terribly for its loyalty to Rome, constituting the world’s largest underground religious body during the Soviet era, and it’s also a leader in civil resistance to the current Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine.

In this essay commissioned by Crux, the Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, a Greek Catholic archpriest at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, who also serves as editor-in-chief of LOGOS, a journal of Eastern Christian studies, discusses the summit.

Among his key arguments:

  • Catholic/Orthodox unity is not some modern notion, since the leader of the Orthodox territory that included Russia came into union with Rome 600 years ago.
  • Since all Orthodox churches are staging a grand council in June for the first time in 1,000 years, Moscow has a clear political incentive for using a platform with the pope to boost its internal standing.
  • Many Russian Orthodox still have negative attitudes toward Catholics.
  • The Russian Orthodox have a tight relationship with the Kremlin, and Putin’s global ambitions may help explain why the meeting is happening.
  • While Pope Francis may know what he’s doing, Ukrainians have less confidence in the Vatican’s resolve.

In all our dealings, the Lord encourages us to be wise as serpents while remaining innocent as doves. That’s a tall order, if you really think about it. In any negotiation, being as shrewd as a snake makes perfect sense. It’s being innocent as a dove that complicates matters.

Since most of the media have no clue as to what the Church is about, or what the Pope might be trying to accomplish at any moment, they are not the most reliable filter for figuring out the dove-to-serpent ratio in many a papal undertaking.

There’s no doubt that the brilliant Jesuit in Pope Francis is thinking several moves down the chessboard when he meets with the Patriarch of Moscow on Friday, but the other side is also calculating its risks. What is really going in this intriguing meeting?

Some history

Let’s set one thing straight from the start: The Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope of Rome have not been estranged for a thousand years, as many media accounts have suggested. A little history lesson will be quite instructive here.

The “Moscow Patriarchate” was only established in 1589. It was suppressed by the Czars from 1700 to 1917, and by the Bolsheviks from 1925 to 1943. The predecessor of the Patriarch of Moscow was styled “Metropolitan of Moscow,” and even this title goes back only to 1448.

Traditionally, the head of the Church in all of Rus’ (which includes today’s Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia) was the Metropolitan of Kiev in Ukraine. It was only because Metropolitan Isidore of Kiev attended the Council of Florence in the mid-15th century, and vigorously supported union with Rome, that Moscow decided to break away and created the position of Metropolitan of Moscow, which was unrecognized by world Orthodoxy for nearly 150 years.

If the Russians today want to claim the previous 4 1/2 centuries of the Metropolitanate of Kiev, they have to deal with the fact that in the mid-15th century, the head of their Church was in full and visible communion with the pope of Rome.

The older “Church of Kiev” did not magically disappear. It still exists today in four variants.

In 1596 the Orthodox Metropolitan of Kiev, Michael Rohoza, and most of the bishops of this Church restored the Florentine model of unity, seeing themselves as part of the universal Catholic Church, in the “Union of Brest”. Their descendants constitute the largest of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches, with some 5 million adherents, and are known today as Ukrainian Greek Catholics.

There’s also a much larger population of Ukrainian Christians who identify themselves as Orthodox, though not in communion with Rome. They’re divided among three communities:

  • The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Patriarchate of Kiev (largest by number of adherents).
  • The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (largest by number of parishes).
  • The much smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

The Moscow Patriarchate would like the world to believe that only its structures are legitimate in Ukraine, deriding the other two Orthodox Churches as schismatic renegades incapable of offering the faithful divine grace since their clergy and sacraments, indeed their whole Churches, are “uncanonical”.

‘Great wound’ in Catholic/Orthodox relations

Moscow considers the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to constitute the great wound between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Disparagingly referring to the members of this dynamic Church as “uniates,” Moscow consistently complains of “violent takeovers of churches” in western Ukraine by these Eastern Catholics.*

This has been going on since the de-criminalization of the Greek Catholic Church on December 1, 1989 (the day that Mikhail Gorbachev met with Pope John Paul II).

But Moscow’s case fails on two very important points.

First of all, it neglects to mention that these churches all belonged to the Ukrainian Greek Catholics until 1946, when a pseudo-synod was held in Lviv. By no standards could this be construed as a legitimate council, since it was not attended by a single Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop; all had been arrested. It was orchestrated on Stalin’s orders by the secret police with the direct complicity of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The council supposedly broke the communion of this Church with Rome and “re-united” it with the Russian Orthodox Church. Most of its church buildings were given to the Moscow Patriarchate. Thus, the “seizing” of these church buildings by the parishioners who simply declared their allegiance to the Greek Catholic Church in 1989 and the years that followed is hardly some ecumenical setback.

In fact, I was witness to a misguided attempt by some “ecumenists” in 1990 to try to limit the resurgence of the Greek Catholic Church. They hoped these Eastern Catholics would choose either Roman-rite Catholicism or Orthodoxy, thus magically doing away with “the problem of the uniates”. The plan failed miserably, because millions of people clearly wanted to be who they already were: Orthodox Christians in full and visible communion with Rome.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church spent 10 years trying to deal in some adequate fashion with the reality of the restoration of religious liberty and the renewed open pastoral activity of several Eastern Catholic Churches, most notably in Ukraine and Romania.

Even though the 1993 Balamand Declaration condemned the approach of uniatism (carving out pieces of one Church in order to unite them with the other), it affirmed the right of the Eastern Catholic Churches to exist and to act.

For some Orthodox, the very existence of these Eastern Catholic Churches is seen as a threat. The Moscow Patriarchate seems to hold this view. Thus, for years the Russian Orthodox Church has complained about Ukrainian Greek Catholics engaging in unspecified acts of violence against the Orthodox. When confronted directly and asked to provide evidence of concrete examples, the Moscow Patriarchate has always come up empty-handed.

And yet the Russian Orthodox Church has consistently blocked the possibility of a meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow, precisely on the grounds that issues first needed to be resolved surrounding the activity of Greek Catholic Church and of the supposed proselytism by Catholics in Russia.

At a press conference on Feb. 5, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department of External Church Relations, explained that the meeting between the pope and the Russian patriarch will take place despite “the problem of Unia” (a disparaging term for the Eastern Catholic Churches) which he characterized as a “never-healing bleeding wound that prevents the full normalization of relations between the two Churches.”

Hilarion admitted that intense negotiations regarding such a meeting had been taking place at least as early as 1996, but that “all these years, the principal problem in the relations between the two Churches, and the principal obstacle for holding a meeting between the two primates, has lied in Unia.”

He listed the following issues as exacerbating problems.

1) “The fact that the Uniates devastated three dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate in western Ukraine in the 1980s and 1990s…” Here he is referring to the fact that, given the chance to finally do so after nearly half a century of absolute persecution, millions of Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishioners declared themselves to actually be Ukrainian Greek Catholic rather than Russian Orthodox.

2) “That they moved the headquarters of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church from Lviv to Kiev…” The Ukrainians are certainly guilty of this. They had the audacity to move their headquarters back to the city of Kiev, the see of Metropolitan Michael Rohoza and his successors for more than two centuries, and the natural location for a Church that is not simply some sort of regional reality in westernmost Ukraine.

3) “That the Greek Catholic Church’s mission extended to the traditionally Orthodox lands in eastern and southern Ukraine.” In an increasingly mobile and globalized world, the Moscow Church’s clinging to the notion of “traditional lands” sounds increasingly like the Kremlin’s desire to preserve or re-establish geopolitical “spheres of influence.”

In fact, Patriarch Kirill has been a very vocal exponent, if not the main ideologue, of the Kremlin’s favored idea of “Russkiy mir” (“the Russian world”), which Vladimir Putin uses to buttress his intrusions into neighboring countries. Interestingly, the Russian Orthodox Church does not seem to apply the same scruples about traditional lands when it establishes parishes and dioceses in Western Europe or Latin America.

4) “That they (Ukrainian Greek Catholics) supported the schismatics (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Patriarchate of Kiev) – all these factors only aggravated the problem.” By “support”, Hilarion must mean “failed to revile as uncanonical and therefore bereft of divine grace.” In fact, the Greek Catholic Church has worked amicably with all of the three major Ukrainian Orthodox Churches.

5) “The situation aggravated further as a result of the recent events in Ukraine, in which Greek Catholic representatives took a direct part, coming out with anti-Russian and Russophobic slogans.” There have certainly been individual Ukrainian Greek Catholics, including priests and laypeople, who have reacted to Russian aggression against Ukraine with very unfortunate and even un-Christian language.

The fact is, such vitriol has appeared on both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Russian clerics and hierarchs have allowed themselves to speak derisively of Ukrainians, calling them everything from Nazis to anti-Semites, with very little concern for verification of the facts. One would have to admit that these statements could be interpreted as anti-Ukrainian and Ukrainophobic.

But it was not Russia that was invaded, and no Russian territory has been seized by Ukraine. The Ukrainian army is not waging war inside Russia. That detail is quite important. In fact, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate have openly supported the Kremlin’s aggression in Eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.

Ukrainian Greek Catholics have had to deal with nearly half a century of their church buildings being occupied by the Moscow Patriarchate (1946-1989), and the fact that ever since they have come out of the underground, they have encountered incessant vilification by the Russian Orthodox Church – as, for example, during the Papal Synod on the Family last October, when Hilarion used his invitation as an observer to unleash a tirade against Ukrainian Greek Catholics, causing many of those present to recoil in chagrin.

What’s behind the pope/patriarch summit?

One would think that in light of these facts, Ukrainian Greek Catholics might be opposed to a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. Instead, the opposite is true.

The day after the meeting was announced, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Greek Catholic Church, remarked: “I do not expect that the meeting of Pope Francis with Patriarch Kirill, planned for Feb. 12, will bring any particular changes. Although it is good that the meeting will take place and I am happy that finally there is an understanding on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church that meetings are necessary.”

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic primate added that the meeting will take place just days before the 70th anniversary of the Lviv Pseudo-Synod, during which the Greek Catholic Church was forcibly liquidated in 1946 and joined to the Russian Orthodox.

“The Russian Orthodox Church, unfortunately, to this day has not condemned this act of coercion, perpetrated by the Soviet authorities. We hope that the meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch will create a new context for movement in the direction of historical justice,” said Sviatoslav.

Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church has consistently refused to address the issues surrounding this Pseudo-Synod, the liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church, the arrests, deportations, and deaths of countless faithful who refused to leave the Catholic Church for Russian Orthodoxy. One can only hope that this first meeting between the heads of the Church of Rome and the Church of Moscow will encourage the objective and transparent examination of these sad events.

Given the absolute refusal of the Moscow patriarchate to countenance the possibility of a meeting between pope and patriarch for two decades, due to the “never-healing bleeding wound” of the Unia, it is not surprising that many ask themselves what has changed.

Why is the Russian Orthodox Church suddenly willing to have this meeting go forward?

The official answer is that the two leaders will put aside other differences in order to come together for the sake of persecuted Christians of the Middle East. There is indeed a catastrophic, even genocidal movement against Syrian and other ancient Christian communities, to which the rest of the world had failed to provide an adequate response. One can only hope that this is, in fact the genuine motivation.

There are, however, some additional facts that need to be considered.

The Orthodox Churches are in the final stages of preparing their “Great and Holy Council”, bringing together leaders of all Orthodox churches for the first time in 1,000 years, which is to take place in June. Over the past few years, Moscow has been doing its best to subvert the notion that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, exercises any sort of relevant primacy among the Orthodox, even as first-among-equals.

As far as Moscow is concerned, leadership of the Orthodox communion should fall to the largest and wealthiest of the Orthodox Churches — itself — rather than to a patriarch with residence in Istanbul who has a tiny flock in Turkey, a non-Christian nation. The trouble is that the Ecumenical Patriarchs since Athenagoras I in the 1960s have enjoyed increasing prominence due precisely to their ever-improving relations with Rome, which have resulted in some very respectful actions toward Constantinople and Orthodoxy in general by the papacy.

Time is running out for the Moscow Patriarch to establish himself as able to carry the mantle of such leadership. Many have doubted that the Great and Holy Synod would indeed materialize, but now it is only several months away. The Patriarch of Moscow needs to act.

This reaching for attention is all the more important for Moscow in light of the ever growing calls for the autocephaly (independence) of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. It seems unlikely that the world’s Orthodox Churches would sacrifice the success of the long-awaited council for the sake of the issue of Ukrainian Orthodox independence, since all decisions will require consensus according to the rules they have adopted. Nevertheless, Moscow seems more nervous about the issue, and about the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch, than ever before, and that could well be one of the reasons why Moscow wants to shore up its relationship with Rome.

In the end, the sad fact is that the Russian Orthodox Church is alarmingly subservient to the government. It is therefore impossible to imagine so momentous a move as the first meeting with the Pope of Rome to have been made without the explicit blessing of Vladimir Putin.

So the question must be asked: what’s in it for Putin? Could it be that the international isolation of Russia after its Crimean and Donbas adventures, coupled with the disastrously low price of Russia’s economic mainstay, oil, along with a badly disguised bombing campaign to prop up Bashar Al-Assad and establish a Russian fact in the Middle East, are all taking their toll and Putin needs to come out of this scenario with some shred of credibility as a kind of “champion of persecuted Christians”?

Can anyone seriously doubt that this is what is really going on?

When the announcement of the meeting was made, a number of commentators began gushing about the coming reunification of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Others speculated about the possibility of the meeting leading to a common date for the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. Few took notice of the assurances to powerful conservative elements in the Russian Orthodox Church by Hilarion that there will be no praying going on at the meeting, which will be held in the spectacularly secular environment of an airport lounge in Havana.

That’s a lucky thing for Kirill, since many in his Church consider Catholics worthy of re-baptism, rejecting all notions of Rome constituting a “sister-church” with real priesthood and real sacraments. It is unthinkable for the Patriarch of Moscow to pray with the Pope. Indeed, these same very vocal forces decry ecumenism as the ultimate “pan-heresy.”

So much will depend on the spin given to this meeting. I don’t think Pope Francis will allow himself to be hoodwinked or outmaneuvered in Havana. He is much too shrewd to allow that to happen. But my confidence in the Vatican’s ability to outdo the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is much shakier. Too many there are still beholden to a hopelessly outdated Ostpolitik.**

One could be forgiven for having low expectations, given all the weighty baggage that is tied up in this meeting. And yet, it seems that Pope Francis hopes it can yield results. More importantly, I believe that the Holy Spirit can surprise us all, no matter what human calculation has gone into the planning of this encounter.

Furthermore, if anything at all can be done to ease the plight of Christians in the Middle East, both Catholics and Orthodox should support it with our prayers.


*”Uniate” was a word that was invented in the 17th century to try and describe the new Eastern Churches united with Rome. But over time, this has become a very negative word, implying that the Eastern Catholics subscribe to a Latin-inspired and Latin-influenced church life. Instead of saying we are United, the Orthodox would say we belong to a Unia, whose ultimate goal is not only the latinization of the Eastern Catholics, but conquering the Orthodox as well. Hence, it is a word that should never be used today by a Catholic! And why the Orthodox continue to use it, I don’t know – fcz

** Ostpolitik was the policy whereby Pope Paul VI and Vatican diplomats decided that the communists were going to remain in Europe and the USSR for a very long time. Therefore, they tried to save a remnant of the hierarchical structure in the Warsaw Pact, and worked alongside atheist governments  in appointing bishops. The local Churches decried Ostpolitik as foolishness and damaging, and today that is widely recognized. Cf. John Koehler’s Spies in the Vatican (2009) to see how not only those results but the intense campaign waged by the Soviets to discredit, weaken, and destroy the Catholic Church, right to the bitter end. 



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