“Baghdad ha perduto la sua bellezza e non ne è rimasto che il nome.
Rispetto a ciò che essa era un tempo, prima che gli eventi la colpissero e gli occhi delle calamità si rivolgessero a lei, essa non è più che una traccia annullata, o una sembianza di emergente fantasma”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
A cruel hoax
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
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
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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”.
L’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
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.
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
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.
'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
'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
'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
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
'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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
“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
“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”.
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
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”.
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.
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
“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…” Leggi tutto!
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 domradio.de. “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
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
Incendio nei pressi di una delle chiese più antiche di Baghdad
Secondo quanto riferito dal sito Ankawa.com 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.