venerdì, dicembre 15, 2017


Criminal organizations exploit refugees’ desperation

By Huffington Post
Nuri Kino

It has become increasingly difficult to get out of the war-ravaged lands of the Middle East where millions have been left with homeless and hopeless futures. In Sweden it can take up to two years for someone who has obtained a residential permit, to bring his or her family for a so-called family reunification. This has led to a massive increase in human trafficking. I met some victims who have entrusted their lives and money into the hands unscrupulous gangs, organized into leagues with branches in Sweden and Germany.

In a church in the northern part of Beirut I’m being told that a young mother has gone from Syria to Lebanon, hoping to continue on. Her husband has paid 5000 euros for a visa to Germany. The person who has received the money claims to be working in the German embassy. But it’s a lie. The money has been paid, but the visa does not exist.
I ask a volunteer at the church if he knows about this scam. He says that everyone – aid workers and government officials – knows that refugees are being fooled.
A young woman from Bagdad, Terez, whispers that she knows others who have been fooled. She asks me to accompany her to a four-storey house in the ghetto nearby. There she tells me how she and her brother had to flee to Lebanon when jihadists started to kidnap Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syrians and other Christians. Their father was one of them. 
Her brother Tomas arrives. Terez prepares Arabic coffee, while Tomas tells their story. The siblings’ story is painfully familiar – persecution, harassment, abuse and violent deaths. Non-Muslims are facing increasingly unbearable conditions in countries like Iraq and Syria.
Terez is married to an American of Iraqi origin and is due to move to the US, but she doesn’t want to leave Tomas alone. “We only have each other, I can’t go and leave him behind”, she says.
The coffee is served in the traditional small cups. I swallow almost all the content in one sip. At first, they glance at me strangely, but then then we laugh, all four of us. The atmosphere eases. I am given another cup to feed my caffeine addiction.
Terez brings out a folder, full of their collective desperation. The message is “rejection”, even though they have been promised – and have paid for – “approval”. The imposters are smart. They have falsified business cards to convince refugees in Lebanon and Jordan that they work, for example, at the Swedish and German consulates, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Tomas shows me his mobile phone. In the Middle East, most people use the app WhatsApp, which is used for recording and sending sound messages. Tomas has kept the whole conversation between him and the fraudster, Basil. We listen to the recordings. Tomas calls Basil and asks if he can help him. Basil answers that they have to be careful, that it mustn’t be revealed that he helps people to get visas to Australia, but he will gladly help Tomas, since they have common acquaintances. Basil makes it sound like he is doing Tomas a favour, and that the money will go towards his expenses, and to other people at the embassy, whom he must bribe.
A cruel hoax
The months pass. Tomas pays Basil 5000 euros. Money that he and Terez have borrowed from relatives, friends and old neighbours, Christian Iraqis, who are scattered all over the world. We continue listening. Basil lies and lies. One day he is going to return the money, another day it’s impossible. But then suddenly the siblings’ father, who is hiding in Iraq, is in need of an emergency operation. There isn’t enough money. Tomas calls Basil in a panic, asks him to stop everything and return the money, and if not, the father is going to die. Basil says it’s not possible, but Tomas mustn’t give up hope, because soon he will leave the Middle East and be able to work and send money for his father’s operation. 
Then Basil changes his mobile number. He disappears with the money. And the siblings’ situation is now worsened. They can’t go to the police in Lebanon, because they are there illegally. They can’t go back to Bagdad. And the father is very ill. Besides that, they are up over their ears in debt.
Tomas shows me receipts for two Western Union transactions. The money has been sent to two persons in Germany. I google the names, investigates social media. Are they real, or are they fake identities? Yes, they exist, but they make themselves impossible to reach when I try to contact them.
Politician involved
I do get in touch with Paulus Kurt, who works for Internationale Gesellschaft orientalischer Christen. He is working with refugees and is very aware of the fact that these criminal gangs fool them. And he has reported a German local politician to the police, because he has fooled about 40 people in Sweden and Germany, who have residential permits, but have tried to bring over their families, friends and old neighbours. The league targets Christians, Yezidis and other non-Muslim groups.
Paulus Kurt got suspicious when he heard that a politician was helping people to apply for visas, but at a cost. He asked to see the copies. “I could tell at once they were false, no applications had been made, and that nobody would get a visa that way. I called the refugees and have now identified forty-five families who have been scammed in Sweden only”.
That night he sends me links to German news articles and TV reports. The politician has left his post and is undergoing a criminal investigation. Most people have lost their money. “Some have the power and brute force to scare the league, and therefore did get their money back, while others are powerless”, Paulus Kurt says.
I want to get hold of Basil, and I go to a translation agency, where I have been told I might get in touch with him. I ask if they know anyone who can get my relatives to Europe, preferably Sweden. I say I can pay and that I am desperate. They ask for my number, point out that they are not involved in anything criminal, but might know someone who can help me. They want to do this just for goodwill.
I log onto Facebook. Basil has three Facebook pages. Pictures of when he is at embassy offices, and at the local UN office in Beirut. It looks good. It’s understandable that many buy into the bluff, when you see the pictures. I approach some of his contacts, who work with refugees in Sweden and Germany. Everybody knows of him, and that he works with asylum issues in the Middle East, but they don’t know exactly what he is doing.
I seek him via Messenger. After twenty-four hours he responds. He says “hello” and asks what he can do for me. I write that I am a journalist and ask if he can answer a couple of questions. He replies that “he knows someone at Skate Varkat in Malmo”. It might be a threat. He wants me to know that he knows people in Sweden. I persist, and ask kindly what he works with. He doesn’t answer any more.
In Sweden I get in touch with Sharbel, through Paulus Kurt. He’s from Syria and was smuggled to Sweden at a cost of 10 000 euros in the summer of 2014. In May 2016 he got his residential visa. He then found out that his wife and two children wouldn’t be able to come for at least another 18 months, because the queues to the Swedish consulate were massive. “The only Swedish embassy they could go to was the one in Jordan, but the borders are closed, and open very erratically. The roads are closed”, says Sharbel, when he explains why he paid for false visas.
He got in touch with the German politician’s network, and calls his relatives and friends. He had found a new way to get into Europe. “My brother-in-law was killed in a suicide bombing and left his wife and daughter behind. We thought we must take them to safety in Europe. My in-laws also wanted to come, as well as my sister, brother and their families”.
Sharbel paid a total of 25000 euros for the family’s visas to Germany. It was a hoax. Three people, Sharbel’s wife and two daughters, managed finally to get to Sweden. The others are still in Syria.
Terez, Tomas, Basil and Sharbel are fictitious names.
*Susan Korah from Canada and Ann Kristin Sandlund from Sweden contributed to this report
**This report was first published in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet

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Sacerdote iracheno perdona l’assassino del fratello e chi lo ha cacciato di casa

By Aleteia
Javier Lozano
Traduzione dallo spagnolo a cura di Roberta Sciamplicotti

Padre Naim Shoshandy
è un giovane sacerdote iracheno di rito siro-cattolico. A 34 anni confessa che la terra in cui è nato ha visto solo guerra e orrori. Lui stesso conosce in prima persona la sofferenza e la persecuzione.
Naim è il minore di cinque fratelli. Suo fratello Raid è stato assassinato a Mosul per il solo fatto di essere cristiano, e sia lui che la sua famiglia hanno dovuto fuggire dalla loro città, Qaraqosh, quando nel 2014 lo Stato Islamico ha attaccato e conquistato la città, in cui esisteva una consistente minoranza cristiana.

Una campagna perché i cristiani iracheni possano tornare a casa
Il religioso si è recato mercoledì a Madrid alla presentazione della campagna di Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre Ayúdales a volver (Aiutali a tornare), nella quale si ricostruiranno oltre 13.000 case di cristiani e centinaia di chiese e cappelle nella piana di Ninive perché possano tornare nella propria terra, in quella dei loro antenati, in cui hanno ricevuto la fede.
Visibilmente emozionato, padre Naim si è interrotto varie volte per le lacrime. Per vari anni ha vissuto con la famiglia e i parrocchiani in un campo di rifugiati di Erbil, nel Kurdistan iracheno, dove ha svolto la sua opera pastorale e ha seguito un programma di aiuto ai malati di cancro, malattia che ha ucciso suo padre, sfollato dagli jihadisti.
Nel suo intervento, il sacerdote ha parlato della forza della fede dei cristiani iracheni, della forza del perdono che stanno sperimentando e della grande voglia che hanno di tornare nelle proprie case. Non vogliono andare in Europa, né negli Stati Uniti o in Paesi vicini. Vogliono tornare a casa anche se sanno che non è ancora un luogo sicuro.

“Siamo riusciti a perdonare l’assassino di mio fratello”
“Vivere da cristiani in Iraq non è facile”, ha affermato, ricordando quanto sia stato difficile l’assassinio di suo fratello per mano degli islamisti. “La sua morte è stata dura, ma grazie a Dio siamo riusciti a perdonare l’assassino di mio fratello”, ha spiegato.
Nella sua testimonianza ha ricordato il momento in cui è caduta Mosul, la seconda città dell’Iraq per grandezza, ad appena 30 chilometri da Qaraqosh, il suo villaggio. Non dimenticherà nemmeno quel 6 agosto 2014, quando all’alba tutti sono stati svegliati dal rumore delle bombe e delle esplosioni, così come non dimentica il giorno in cui sono arrivati gli jihadisti.

L’arrivo dei terroristi a casa sua
Lo Stato Islamico ha attaccato Qaraqosh, e una delle bombe “è caduta vicino a casa mia. Ricordo che è morta una ragazza, una mia vicina che aveva quasi 25 anni, e anche due bambini che giocavano in strada”.
In quel momento hanno iniziato a provare una paura che non li ha più abbandonati e che solo la fede è riuscita a vincere. “Abbiamo sofferto molto per il fatto di doverci lasciare indietro la nostra vita, le nostre cose, la nostra storia, non sapendo dove andavamo e se saremmo rimasti in vita”, ha detto tra le lacrime. Hanno quindi iniziato a dormire in strada, in alcune tende nei parcheggi, soffrendo caldo e freddo.

La Croce, il motivo della sua espulsione
“Tutti siamo dovuti andare via da lì per questa croce”, ha detto padre Naim mostrando un grande crocifisso. Essere cristiani era l’unico motivo per il quale fuggivano o morivano. I cristiani, però, non hanno rinnegato la loro fede per sopravvivere.
Il sacerdote siro-cattolico ha affermato orgoglioso che i cristiani perseguitati del suo Paese “hanno una fede molto grande perché Dio è con noi”.

L’“arma” dei cristiani iracheni
Gli jihadisti hanno armi e bombe. “Noi abbiamo Dio e il Rosario come arma”, ha affermato mostrando il crocifisso e il rosario, le uniche cose che è riuscito a portare con sé quando ha dovuto lasciare in fretta Qaraqosh. Non ha potuto prendere né vestiti né beni, solo quello che aveva addosso e le sue due “armi”.
Malgrado le sofferenze che hanno sperimentato lui e il resto dei cristiani della piana di Ninive, padre Naim ha insistito sul fatto che “siamo riusciti a perdonare le persone dello Stato islamico”. “Nell’accampamento con mia madre abbiamo provato sofferenza, dolore, stanchezza, ma sempre con la certezza che Dio è con noi”.
Com’è riuscito a perdonare? È una domanda che gli pongono molti. La sua risposta è chiara: “Quando Cristo era sulla croce, ha perdonato chi lo stava uccidendo. Questa è la testimonianza che attende il mondo”.

’anelito a tornare nelle proprie case
Sia padre Naim che migliaia di cristiani che vivono nei campi di rifugiati vogliono solo tornare nelle loro case. Sa che molti cristiani se ne sono andati per non tornare più, ma ce ne sono molte migliaia che vogliono riprendere la propria vita dopo essere stati strappate da lì tre anni fa.
“Perché dobbiamo abbandonare il nostro Paese, la nostra terra, la nostra storia, i miei nonni, la mia Chiesa, la mia fede? Questo Paese lo abbiamo fatto anche noi”,
ha detto con decisione.
Per aiutare a realizzare questo anelito dei cristiani perseguitati è stata avviata la campagna di ACS per aiutarli a ricostruire case e chiese distrutte dallo Stato Islamico.

Dio non ci abbandonerà”
Il sacerdote iracheno ha trasmesso il sentire dei suoi parrocchiani: “Abbiamo la speranza di tornare a casa. Dio non ci abbandonerà, e abbiamo anche la speranza che ci siano fratelli che ci aiuteranno”.
La sua esperienza di fede, ha aggiunto, gli ha mostrato che “Dio era con noi in ogni momento, e non è mai lontano dalle persone che soffrono”. Il sacerdote confida nella Provvidenza e nell’aiuto dei cristiani d’Occidente, “i miei fratelli”.
“Vogliamo tornare, vogliamo vivere come cristiani in Iraq”
, ha aggiunto, avanzando anche una richiesta molto concreta: i cristiani iracheni vogliono “celebrare il Natale in casa, mettere il presepe e l’albero”.

Una campagna senza precedenti di Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre

Questa campagna è quella di maggior spessore intrapresa da Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre, ha affermato Javier Menéndez Ros, direttore di questa fondazione pontificia in Spagna.
Tecnici e architetti della fondazione hanno visitato le località cristiane della piana di Ninive casa per casa perché 12.000 famiglie vi potessero tornare. In totale, 13.088 case sono state danneggiate dai terroristi. Di queste, 8.291 sono state parzialmente distrutte, 3.357 bruciate e 1.234 totalmente distrutte.
363 edifici ecclesiali – parrocchie o cappelle – sono state colpite dai terroristi: 197 sono state parzialmente distrutte, 132 date alle fiamme e 34 completamente rase al suolo. Con la campagna “Aiutali a tornare” si vuole rafforzare la presenza cristiana in questa zona dell’Iraq, dalla quale sono stati espulsi 120.000 cristiani.
“Vogliamo tornare!”,
ha concluso il suo intervento padre Naim, sapendo che la Provvidenza agirà per aiutarli.

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giovedì, dicembre 14, 2017


Theresa May given scorched Bible saved from Iraqi church burned by ISIS

By Christian Today

A Bible in Arabic taken from the ruins of a church in Iraq burned by Islamic State has been presented to Prime Minister Theresa May.
The Bible, bearing scorch-marks from the fire, is from St Mary's in Karamles, one of the Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain badly damaged by the terrorist group. Karamles originally had 797 houses and of these, 464 have been burned, 97 have been completely destroyed by bombs and the rest are damaged or vandalised. Christians have gradually been returning there, helped by church-led organisations including Aid to the Church in Need, but many are still afraid to go back.
Lisa Pearce, chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland, Father Daniel from Erbil in Iraq and Conservative MP Caroline Spelman met the Prime Minister yesterday in Parliament to highlight the plight of Christians and minorities in the Middle East and ask for help in securing a better future for them.
Daniel presented Mrs May with the Bible and later spoke to MPs, peers and church leaders.
The event came after 808,172 people from 142 countries signed a petition, launched by Open Doors, asking the UK government and the United Nations to ensure that Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities enjoy the right to equal citizenship, dignified living conditions and a prominent role in reconciling and rebuilding their society.

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KRG says Christians aren't ‘minorities’ because they are ‘integral part’ of Kurdistan

By Kurdistan 24
Karzan Sulaivany 

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Wednesday said it refused to use the term “minorities” when referring to Christians and other ethnic groups in Kurdistan as they are an “integral part” of the Region.
“The components that live in the Kurdistan Region are not minorities, but are authentic components and have historical roots in this country,” KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said, referring to Christians and other non-Muslim religious groups, during a meeting with representatives of Christian political factions.
The term “minorities” has often become a common word for senior Iraqi executives in official documents, government communications, and press conferences, although they are not included in the Constitution.
The Christians in Iraq have been subjected to increased violence since 2003 when the former Iraqi regime—led by Saddam Hussein—collapsed, prompting many of them to flee to the Kurdistan Region or move abroad to Europe and America for security reasons.
The Christian population in Iraq was once as large as 1.5 million and is believed to have now reached less than half of that, according to recent government statistics.
Unlike Iraq, Kurdistan has been recognized as an oasis of calm and stability, earning a positive reputation as a haven for all components especially since the emergence of the Islamic State (IS).
When IS launched their blitzkrieg on the country in 2014, the militant group targeted ethnic and religious components in Sinjar (Shingal) and the Nineveh Plains, home to thousands of Christians.
“It is necessary to ensure the rights of Christians based on the law, and to ensure their presence is felt in all areas of the Region,” Prime Minister Barzani continued.
The KRG leader’s meeting with the Christian political factions coincides with reports of unrest in the Nineveh Plains, which is inhabited by Christians, Yezidis (Ezidis), Shabaks, and others.
The representatives of the Christian factions shared their concern with Prime Minister Barzani on the current situation in Nineveh, while also demanding the Iraqi government “reduce the military and security forces in these areas,” a KRG statement read.
Iraqi forces took control of most of the Nineveh Plains in late 2016 after Kurdish Peshmerga forces launched an offensive to liberate the area from IS.

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'I cannot remember peace': One Iraqi priest's hopes for Christians in the Middle East

By Christian Today
Harry Farley

'Tell me your dreams,' Father Daniel, an Iraqi priest in the northern city of Irbil asked the children he looks after.
The children's response was what they had grown used to seeing. To kill, maim and seek revenge on those who had done the same to them — ISIS.
'On that day I was thinking if we didn't take care of our children maybe the next generation of ISIS would come from our children. I was really afraid of that,' he told Christian Today in an interview.
Through a series of classes and trauma clinics run through his church in northern Iraq, he is gradually teaching the more than 350 children who take refuge there the importance of forgiveness.
'Today if you ask me if I am really worried about the children I would say no. I trust them. They have shown a positivity in the dealing with so many negative cases that came from their neighbours.'
But his long-term dream is still to be realised.
At the age of 27 Father Daniel says he cannot remember any point in his life where there was peace, growing up as he did with the Gulf War, then being threatened by Al Qaida in Baghdad before the US-UK invasion in 2003 and then the ISIS rampage. 'Every day, even if we hear some good news, we are afraid that two minutes after we are going to get some bad news,' he said. 'We don't have the hope.'
Now even with ISIS all but gone from Iraq, the residual bitterness against other communities and the government, especially from Kurdish-controlled Erbil, remains strong.
'There is always tension among Christians about the future,' says Father Daniel. 'Many are uncertain about what will happen next. Are we going to stay or are we going to leave? Of course this thinking not coming from nothing. They have experienced negative and bad things that started from the crisis where ISIS raided their villages and houses.
'Since then until there is no trust. They don't trust the government. They don't trust their neighbours. When they left their houses, villages and cities, their neighbours were the first to steal their property.
'So there are still tensions.' 
For those tensions to subside, Christian leaders must be involved in the peacebuilding process, he says.
Father Daniel is in the UK to present a petition alongside the Christian persecution charity Open Doors to the UK government - a responsibility he says he bears heavily. It asks the foreign office to protect the rights of religious minorities as both Syria and Iraq rebuild after the trauma of ISIS' invasion. It also asks for decent living conditions including jobs and houses, especially for returning refugees and for faith leaders to have a prominent role in the reconciliation process.
How Western governments should bring about these requests is another question.
Father Daniel expresses enthusiasm about the US Vice President Mike Pence's announcement the State Department would divert aid money away from the United Nations' programmes and straight to faith based agencies.
'I think it is a good idea to be in direct contact with the Iraqi Christians,' he said. 'The Church can play a role that no government or organisation in the world can do.'
The UK government is unlikely to follow the same path of antagonising the UN as Trump's administration. But there is a frustration among campaigners in the UK at the lack of tangible effort from the foreign office to improve conditions for Christians in the Middle East.
Fearful of UNHCR refugee camps because they are dominated and run but different faith groups who are hostile, Christians are excluded from resettlement schemes in to the UK and forced to find shelter where they can in nearby churches. Hundreds of thousands remain internally displaced within their country but without a home.
Open Doors' petition hopes to raise awareness and funds to step in where ministers are reluctant. Last year the global Open Doors International network raised around $70 million for persecuted Christians providing food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources.
But unless the trend changes dramatically there will be few Christians left to support. Open Doors UK is warning that 80 per cent of Christians have left Iraq with as little as 200,000 remaining compared to up to 2 million in the 1980s.
On top of that Christians made up between 8-10 per cent of the Syrian population before 2011 with Aleppo the most Christian city with 400,000 believers. Now that number is around 60,000 and some estimates suggest 800,000 Christians have fled across the country.

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Conference on Persecuted Christians in the Middle East

The Chaldean Archbishops of Basra and the south, Habib Jajou participated in the Conference on persecuted Christians in the Middle East held in Brussels, Belgium between Tuesday and Wednesday, 5-6 December on behalf of HB Mar Louis Raphael Sako. The title of the Conference was: ‘Christmas after Daesh: Hope reborn for Christians in the Middle East'. Memberes from the European Parliament and Concerned Christian organizations have come to adopt an action in support of the Iraqi and Syria Christians.
Archbishop Jajou called for urgent help and more comprehensive action because Christians have been facing new challenges. They have been fronting two scenarios: one of peace and the second one of violence; ‘the extremist Muslims will try to lead Iraq to be a permanent place of conflict’ he said. He mentioned what HB addressed at a conference in Rome in Sep. 2017 that ‘Iraq is losing an irreplaceable component of its society, the Christian one; hence the countdown has begun for the vanishing of a genuine tradition!
Archbishop Jajou presented a Road Map included the following:
First, moving forward with social resilience and protection of the national fabric of different religions, cultures and backgrounds.
Second, educating the new generation and spreading optimistic concepts about life through social media.
Third, protecting ethnic minorities by a national and international law.
Fourth, calling the Iraqi government and other policymakers to take legal decisions and decisive actions to stand at the same space of everyone in a civil state.
Fifth, calling the Islamic religious leaders to work with other cultural institutions and social media to adopt a positive discourse that deepens the sense of citizenship;
Sixth, reforming the education curriculums in schools to prepare a new and adequate educational program to eradicate the fundamentalist ideology and to adapt it to the requirements of modern times. Finally, he requested to redrafting the Article 2 in the Iraqi Constitution and Article 26 in the Personal Status Low which abuses other religions.

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Iraqi priest arrives in UK, warns Islamic State support will last for decade

By Premier
Alex Williams

An Iraqi priest has told Premier that efforts by Islamic State (IS) to indoctrinate children means erasing the group's ideology from the Middle East could take ten years.
Fr Daniel arrived in London to deliver a petition on Wednesday which urges the British Government not to ignore the plight of persecuted believers and other minorities in the region, many of whom have fled extremism and conflict.
In taking over areas in Iraq, including the sprawling city of Mosul in the Nineveh Plains, IS forced primary and secondary school-age children to undergo a radical school curriculum.
Fr Daniel, who now supports traumatised children, said: "They planted something very deep in their [the children's] minds and it will take a very, very long time to remove all of these ideas."
The 27-year-old from Erbil joined the anti-persecution charity Open Doors UK in encouraging ministers to commit to helping refugees and internally displaced people return home, as IS is gradually forced out.
Asserting that the Iraqi church is ready to engage in the rebuilding and reconciliation efforts, Fr Daniel also said: "During the time of displacement when they were staying in the [refugee] centres, those people [believers] were taught and were healed from their trauma.
"Now, they have more resilience so they can deal better with these cases."
His petition, signed by 750,000 in 143 countries, urges that the rights of Christians and other minorities as citizens of Middle Eastern countries be recognised, and that they have access to "dignified" living conditions.
The document, which forms part of Open Doors' Hope for the Middle East campaign, will be presented to peers and MPs in the House of Parliament.

Click on the title of the post to listen to Premier's Alex Williams speaking with Fr Daniel.

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Iraq bishop recalls his abduction from Baghdad in new book

By WorldWatch Monitor

It was 2001 and Saad Hanna watched in horror as his TV showed the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center smouldering and collapsing. Then a trainee priest studying in Italy, he said to fellow seminarians, “The world is turning upside down. The Americans will not let this be.”
With this flashback, the now-Bishop Hanna sets the scene for what he would endure five years later. In a first-person account, he vividly relates the 27 days of his kidnap and torture at the hands of Sunni armed men in a book, ‘Abducted in Iraq: a priest in Baghdad’.
It was 2006 and the tide of anger that followed the US-led dismantling of the government of President Saddam Hussein, and much of the country’s infrastructure, was fast-flowing and destructive. The young Baghdadi priest was driving home after a Mass and a big celebratory meal on the Feast of the Assumption, when four armed men ordered him from his car and pushed him onto the floor of theirs. He didn’t know them and believed they had the wrong man. Between beatings, his captors accused him of collaborating with the Americans.
In a dynamic that has become all too familiar to people concerned about Iraqi minorities, the priest found himself not only at the mercy of violent extremists, but also let down by members of the international community who could have rescued him. In a brief moment of contact with a world beyond his blindfold, he was handed a mobile phone, through which a member of the coalition forces told him: “We do not have orders to come and liberate people from kidnap.”
At another point, he was given a phone and told to talk to the Chaldean Patriarch, Emmanuel Delly, but a prisoner exchange promised by his captors didn’t materialise.
Unable to see his surroundings, Hanna invites the reader on his inner journey: of hopes raised and dashed; of holding on to his faith; to a Gethsemane-like acceptance of death; and into his near-obsession with “the malleability of time”, which preoccupies him when he is deprived of sight and freedom.
Bishop Hanna varies the pace well between the rapid, intrusive violence and long periods of isolation and reflection, in which his deep spirituality comes to the fore. His recollections are philosophical, elegantly expressed, and coloured not with bitterness but with incomprehension and an un-self-conscious courage. He humanises his captors as much as he can manage. “They too were concerned, these men, and wondered what would be next,” he says.
He resolves “not to judge one faith to be above another, but to see that some people can find a rationale for violence from religion, while others find a rationale for unity”.
In his Foreword, British Catholic peer Lord David Alton invites readers to see Bishop Hanna’s story – of suffering a dual blow of extremist violence and Western inaction – as the story of all Iraqi Christians. To do this illustrates why so many Iraqi Christians believe their country is no longer safe and have sought refuge overseas, placing the future of Iraqi Christianity in question. Bishop Hanna was one of a number of clergy targeted around that time – and not all survived. Arguably, the lasting damage inflicted by Hanna’s captors was not the physical or psychological violence inflicted on the individual, but the convincing of thousands of Iraqi citizens to uproot and scatter themselves abroad.
The book ends with a reproduction of the telegram Pope Benedict XVI sent to Patriarch Delly which appeals for Hanna’s release, and a sentence listing his various roles now, inside and outside Iraq. It does not mention that the Catholic seminary where he worked relocated from Baghdad to Kurdistan because of his kidnap, or answer the questions left hanging while he was in captivity, or say at least that he still does not have answers, such as: Who were his captors? Why was he not released straight after his conversation with the Patriarch? What negotiations led to his eventual release?
For anyone exasperated by the ongoing violence in the Middle East, or wondering how best to respond to it, Bishop Hanna’s well-told account of his kidnap makes for a gripping and challenging read.

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Today: viaggio a Baghdad. Reportage e approfondimenti sull’Iraq dopo la guerra in Siria. Lunedì 18 dicembre alle 23.30 su Tv2000

By TV 2000

Con la parata militare di domenica scorsa, il governo iracheno ha voluto festeggiare la liberazione del Paese dall’Isis: espulse le ultime sacche di resistenza, Baghdad ha riacquistato il controllo dei confini con la Siria. La strada da fare, però, resta lunga: la minaccia jihadista non è finita e, soprattutto, la società non è ancora davvero pacificata. Villaggi bruciati, chiese vandalizzate, pozzi avvelenati e fognature distrutte attendono i cristiani della Piana di Ninive che, dopo tre anni trascorsi da sfollati, stanno facendo ritorno a casa: sarà per loro un Natale diverso, certamente migliore di quelli passati nei campi profughi ma anche pieno di cicatrici da curare. Gli aiuti arrivati dall’Onu, finora, non sono riusciti a risolvere l’emergenza abitativa (tanto che gli USA hanno appena annunciato di voler fare da soli, finanziando direttamente le minoranze religiose irachene) e la normalità, per una delle comunità cristiane più antiche del mondo, sembra piuttosto lontana. È questo l’argomento di Today, l’approfondimento di Tv2000 dedicato all’attualità internazionale, in onda lunedì 18 dicembre alle 23.00. Il reportage di Riccardo Bicicchi ci accompagna nei luoghi sacri devastati dall’Isis, dove i cristiani in rientro dall’esilio provano a riprendere in mano le loro vite. L’ospite in studio è don Karam Shamasha, sacerdote della diocesi caldea di Alqosh, che racconterà la propria esperienza. Con lui, Andrea Sarubbi discuterà anche del ruolo dei Paesi occidentali e della possibilità che l’Iraq torni a essere un luogo di convivenza. La puntata sarà introdotta dalla copertina di Solen De Luca e verrà chiusa con un’opera d’arte scelta dalla redazione.

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mercoledì, dicembre 13, 2017


Sacerdote caldeo: Natale, la rinascita della Piana di Ninive liberata dall’Isis

By Asia News

Le persone vivono “l’attesa del Natale con gioia, come se avessero lasciato il carcere” dopo aver trascorso gli ultimi anni “rifugiati nei centri di accoglienza a Erbil e nel Kurdistan irakeno”. La speranza è che “quanti sono fuggiti” in altri Paesi della regione o in Occidente “possano tornare a casa” e contribuire “in prima persona alla rinascita della nostra terra”. È quanto racconta ad AsiaNews don Paolo Thabit Mekko, sacerdote caldeo di Mosul, che nei giorni scorsi ha celebrato per la prima volta la festa di Santa Barbara a Karamles, nella piana di Ninive, per tre anni nelle mani dei miliziani dello Stato islamico (SI, ex Isis). “Abbiamo organizzato una festa solenne - sottolinea - per mostrare che, seppur lentamente e a fatica, vogliamo tornare alla normalità e vivere appieno questo periodo di Avvento in preparazione alla nascita di Gesù”. 
Lo Stato islamico, dichiarato sconfitto lo scorso fine settimana dal premier irakeno Haider al-Abadi, “è diventato storia, fa parte del passato”, racconta don Paolo, ma “restano ancora dei problemi legati ad alcune milizie (sciite)” che sono fonte di tensione. Vi è inoltre la questione primaria “legata alla ricostruzione delle case” e questo vale “per Karamles come per molte altre cittadine della piana, prima fa tutte Qaraqosh”. 
Nei giorni scorsi la comunità ha festeggiato Santa Barbara con una celebrazione eucaristica e una fiaccolata, partita dalla chiesa della Vergine Maria e terminata al santuario dedicato alla santa. Conclusi i riti e le funzioni, la comunità si è riunita per un momento conviviale, cui è seguita la “prima partita” a calcio nel rinnovato stadio del Karamles Sporting Club cui hanno partecipato giovani cristiani e musulmani. 
“In previsione della festa - racconta il sacerdote - abbiamo completato i lavori di ripristino del santuario. In molti sono accorsi per partecipare alla festa e sono rimasti stupiti dalla solennità delle celebrazioni. Cerchiamo di mostrare il ritorno alla normalità e, in questo contesto, si inserisce anche la partita a pallone in un centro di nuovo pronto a ospitare eventi sportivi. Ora vogliamo promuovere una sorta di campionato per giovani cristiani e musulmani dei villaggi vicini”. 
“Finora sono 270 le famiglie tornate a Karamles - spiega don Paolo - e la Chiesa prosegue nel lavoro di ricostruzione delle case bruciate o distrutte, anche se non è un’opera facile”. Le famiglie devono “ricostruirsi una vita” e per farlo “servono servizi pubblici, elettricità che viene rifornita solo 4 ore al giorno, riscaldamento”. La vita “sta riprendendo e si cerca di tornare alla normalità”, aggiunge “ma servono tempo e soldi perché Daesh [acronimo arabo per lo SI] ha distrutto tutto”.
“Di recente - prosegue - abbiamo inaugurato un asilo che accoglie 70 bambini, aperto anche ai non cristiani. E ancora, ci sono i danni della guerra da riparare, primo fra tutti l’abbattimento dei muri di terra eretti da Peshmerga (le milizie curde) e jihadisti come barricate; dobbiamo spianare il terreno, per procedere poi alla semina di frutta e verdura. A questo si aggiunge la bonifica dei terreni dalle mine lasciate dall’Isis. Molti contadini non si fidano ad avventurarsi per i campi a causa del pericolo nascosto”. 
In questi giorni fervono i lavori per l’allestimento del presepe, l’addobbo delle strade, la sistemazione della chiesa e del salone principale del centro culturale, che ospiterà la messa della notte di Natale. “Fra le persone - confida don Paolo - vi è ancora un clima di freddezza, di timore, per il ricordo del dramma vissuto in questi ultimi anni: le violenze jihadiste, la fuga dalla propria terra, l’esilio, l’esodo di molti all’estero in cerca di una nuova vita. Sto cercando di coinvolgere i giovani nei lavori di preparazione; a Karamles abbiamo aperto una casa per studenti cristiani che frequentano l’università di Mosul, originari di altre cittadine e villaggi. Per Natale stiamo pensando di organizzare una festa per loro, per farli sentire meno lontani dalle loro case, dalle loro famiglie”. 
Nonostante le difficoltà “i fedeli vogliono vivere la ricorrenza, un momento speciale caratterizzato da tradizioni che vogliamo rispettare”. Tuttavia, i bisogni “sono ancora molti” e “l’aiuto dall’esterno resta fondamentale”, ricorda don Paolo che vuole chiudere con un augurio: “Che la nascita di Cristo sia occasione per far rinascere la piana di Ninive e i suoi villaggi, non solo Karamles, per offrire a quanti sono fuggiti l’opportunità di ritornare”.

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Over 800,000 call on UN to protect Christians in Middle East

A petition signed by more than 800,000 people will be presented at the United Nations in New York today (12 December), calling for the protection of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, and recognition of the key role faith leaders can play in rebuilding efforts post-Islamic State.
The ‘Hope for the Middle East’ petition will be handed over by 12-year-old Noeh and his father, Hathem, from Karamles, northern Iraq, to representatives of the UN General Assembly, diplomats and members of other international bodies.
”We all hope to have our full rights in Iraq… This is the most important thing we need to continue staying in Iraq,” said Father Behnam Lallo, a Syriac Catholic priest from Bartella, northern Iraq, who is also part of the delegation. “The material things are really important. But to continue staying, to continue existing, we need to gain our full rights as real citizens of Iraq.” 

Another Iraqi priest, Father George, who is coordinating the Church Supreme Board for Reconstruction in Qaraqosh, said the petition is “very important for Christians here because … our issue … will be empowered by support of other Christians in the world. So the political decision will be made stronger as well, to support our life here and to stay here in this land”.

‘Tipping point’
The petition, an initiative of the charity Open Doors, calls on the UN and other decision-making bodies to collaborate with religious leaders and faith-based organisations in establishing and maintaining peace, and rebuilding Syrian and Iraqi societies. It says there is a need for legal frameworks that protect the rights of all citizens, irrespective of race and religion. According to a June report by three Christians charities, including Open Doors, for many of Syria and Iraq’s Christians the emergence of IS in 2014 was only the “tipping point” for their displacement, and it will require more than just protection from IS, the army or other militant groups, for them to return. An estimated half a million Christians fled Iraq in the 10 years before IS swept across the Nineveh Plains in 2014. Another Iraqi priest, Father Thabet, who oversees the reconstruction of buildings in Karamles, says “there is a lot to do … to help the Iraqi government create a just situation of freedom for all components of society, and especially for the Christians. To stop the ‘bleeding’ of emigration and to help the Christians to continue in their active role in society. “We will need international support and protection. That is the only way our future as Christians in this country can be guaranteed.”

Trail of destruction

More than 200,000 of the signatures came from inside the Middle East, including 65,000 from Iraq. The next highest number came from the UK and Ireland – over 185,000 – while India and Brazil each recorded over 60,000. Father Thabet and Noeh’s family were among the many Christians from Karamles forced to flee to safer cities like Erbil, after IS arrived in 2014. By the time IS was forced out of the village, over two years later, the militants had left a trail of destruction, with hundreds of homes and other buildings burned-out or destroyed. In a poignant first visit back to his village earlier this year, Noeh discovered several marbles amidst the rubble and ashes of what was once his bedroom. “I feel very sad about what happened,” he said then. “Still I am very eager to return to my village. This is our land.” In New York, he will hand over some of his scorched marbles to those in leadership positions, so they will remember him and his people. Father Thabet says 270 families, including Noeh’s, have now returned to Karamles in the year since IS left. Noeh’s school has reopened, but he and his parents are currently staying with Noeh’s aunt, while they save money to rebuild their home. 

Slowly returning

Syrians are also slowly returning to rebuild their homes and lives. But human rights advocate Ewelina Ochab says that while many Syrian Christians believe they still have a future at home under President Bashar Al-Assad, many Iraqi Christians feel they have no future in the region anymore. In May, church leaders in northern Iraq launched an ambitious US$262 million “Marshall Plan” for the reconstruction of Christian-majority villages devastated by IS. The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, said the US in particular had a responsibility to help rebuild Christian villages because of its leading role in the 2003 invasion. In October US Vice President Mike Pence announced that the US State Department will favour “faith-based groups” in future aid distribution, saying UN agencies “often failed to help the most vulnerable communities, especially religious minorities”. Pence is scheduled to visit the Middle East later this month.

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A 10-Year-Old Dares to Dream Again

By Zenit
Ragheb Elias Karash

Ten-year-old Helda Khalid Jacob Hindi, a fifth-grader, is not at a loss for words. She is passionate about her life, her future and that of her loved ones. Helda and her family—mom, dad and a younger brother—recently moved back to Qaraqosh on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, after spending three years in exile in Kurdistan. She remembers vividly the night of Aug. 6, 2014, when ISIS overran her town and Christian families had to flee overnight.
She says: “Alarm bells rang out in our streets—we had to escape the living hell of violence and terrorism. I went along, crying, with no hope of ever returning to my town, my school; with no hope of ever seeing my friends again. We had no idea how long we would be displaced from our beloved city. The days passed and we lived in torment and tragedy until we got used to it.”
Eventually, a new school was built for displaced children and Helda and her family began a new life. She remembers: “I was sad, clinging to hope of returning to my old school; but I made new friends. And today, by God’s grace, we have returned to our town and I am back in my old school among my old friends.”
Life in exile has been hard, perhaps particularly for a proud girl like Helda, who says: “we felt humiliated when we were receiving humanitarian aid, because we didn’t think that the day would come when we would become like beggars, oppressed people, with no power or strength.
“We had only God and we never stopped believing in his power and his mercy for all those hurting in Iraq and around the world. Whenever we approach him in prayer and faith, we feel joy and confidence without end. My family, friends, and relatives never felt that God was far away from us. As far as I can see into the past, God has been with me always. God is with me everywhere and I make sure to always keep nearby some pictures of Jesus Christ and a Bible.”
Helda proclaims she has her own ideas about her country. She explains: “sometimes, I want to stay in Iraq because it is my home, my beloved country. Sometimes, I want to leave, especially when I see photographs and videos of terrorism striking innocent civilians. My heart cannot bear those horrifying scenes, but when I feel scared, I ask God to save me.
“Frankly I’m not really sure about my future here in Iraq. I would want to go abroad with my family if we have to continue suffering war and persecution; how long it will take for us to finally be safe and secure? My message to the West is to do as much as possible to support Christians in Iraq because they are close to extinction. Help us. Have compassion, and you will be rewarded by the one who is in heaven.
“Stop oppressing poor people. We want stability and peace. Let’s work together and pray together for peace and love—for all of us.”
Helda insists: “I have a beautiful dream in life. My hobbies are painting, music, singing, and I like acting a lot, but my ambition is—with the help of God—to become a dentist, to serve my community and my country, wherever I may end up living.” She adds, however: “I do not know where to start because things are still so unsettled. What will be next for us? It’s so hard to tell right now…”

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New church for 5000 Chaldean Catholics from Middle East

By The Tablet
Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

More than 40 per cent the population of the southern Swedish town are from the Middle East and there are now large Christian communities

With the help of the Archdiocese of Cologne, a new church in Södertalje, 30 km south of Stockholm, for 5000-6000 Chaldean Catholics, who fled to Sweden from the conflict areas of the Middle East, was consecrated on 8 December. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne flew to Södertalje for the consecration.

While the consecration was performed by the Catholic Bishop of Stockholm, Cardinal Anders Aborelius, the service was ecumenical, Cardinal Woelki told “The Chaldean Catholics, who are the largest Christian refugee group in Sweden, invited Armenian and Syrian Catholics but also Syrian Orthodox, Melkites and Maronites”, Woelki said. “We celebrated in the Latin rite but as Arabic was the mother tongue of most of the parish members, the liturgy was interwoven with their own, familiar hymns from Syria, Mosul or Baghdad”.
In 2000, 13,000 Christian families had lived in Baghdad and Mosul, he recalled. “Today there are only about 100 of them left,” he deplored. Refugees from the Middle East had been coming to Södertälje since 2003 and continued to come. More than 40 per cent the population of this southern Swedish town now came from the Middle East and there were now large Christian communities, the cardinal said. Most of the Christian refugees were convinced that, as Christians continued to be persecuted in the Middle East, they would not be able to return.
The Church in Sweden was committed to integrating refugees and offered language courses, advertised jobs and lent churches for immigrants to hold services in their own rites and languages.
As there was no religious instruction in Swedish state schools, priests and catechists gave religious instruction to young Catholics on Saturday mornings. Up to 500 young Catholics were receiving instruction in the Chaldean parish in Södertälje which now had a new church, Woelki said.
The archdiocese of Cologne contributed 500,000 euros (£440,000) towards the new church in Södertälje and the Cologne archdiocese’s master-builder, Martin Struck, provided the necessary architectural advice.

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martedì, dicembre 12, 2017


Incendio nei pressi di una delle chiese più antiche di Baghdad

By Baghdadhope*

Secondo quanto riferito dal sito e da numerose pagine social un incendio avrebbe raggiunto anche se fortunatamente non distrutto a Baghdad la chiesa caldea della Madre dei Dolori nel centralissimo quartiere  di Haqid An-Nasara, dove al tempo della sua costruzione viveva la maggior parte dei cristiani della capitale e si concentravano i loro edidfici religiosi. 
L'incendio è divampato ieri nel vicino mercato coperto di Shorja ed ha presto raggiunto la chiesa sita nel centro del quartiere e circondata da strade molto strette.
La chiesa della Madre dei Dolori fu fondata nel 1843 ed ampliata tra il 1887 ed il 1898. Lo stile è una mescolanza di architettura bizantina ed araba con ampio uso di pietre e marmo al suo interno che all'epoca della costruzione furono trasportate da Mosul lungo il corso del Tigri, un cortile circondato da archi che richiamano lo stile abbaside e diverse cupole.
Al suo interno si trovano le tombe di alcuni dei patriarchi della chiesa caldea. 
Questa mattina intanto, come riferisce il sito del Patriarcato Caldeo Mar Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarca di babilonia dei Caldei, accompagnato dai suoi ausiliari Mons. Shleimun Warduni e Mons. Basil Yaldo, ha visitato la cattedrale di San Giuseppe nel quartiere di Karrada a Baghdad in vista della sua ripertura solenne sabato prossimo con una cerimonia religiosa pomeridiana.

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