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Aid workers kidnapped in Iraq released

March 27, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 11:19 am (CNA).- Four men working in Iraq for the French humanitarian organization SOS Chrétiens d’Orient who went missing in Baghdad in January have been released by their kidnappers, the French president announced Thursday.

Emmanuel Macron announced March 26 that he “welcomes the release of our three nationals Antoine Brochon, Julien Dittmar, Alexandre Goodarzy and Iraqi Tariq Mattoka.”

The men disappeared Jan. 20 after they made a trip to an appointment by car. SOS Chrétiens d’Orient tried to contact them the following day, unsuccessfully.

The missing employees had gone to Baghdad “to renew their visas and the registration of association with the Iraqi authorities and to monitor the association’s operations” in the country.

Macron’s office said it had made “every effort” to secure their release, and he expressed “gratitude to the Iraqi authorities for their co-operation.”

SOS Chrétiens d’Orient said last week that they had received no ransom demand, and no group had claimed responsibility for the abduction.

The organization works to support Eastern Christians with humanitarian material aid; it has permanent missions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt.

Christians in Iraq have suffered persecution in recent years, especially during the invasion of the Islamic State.

Prior to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were about 1.5 million Iraqi Christians. Today, that number is believed to be fewer than 500,000.


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First bishop known to die of coronavirus was missionary in Ethiopia

March 25, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

CNA Staff, Mar 25, 2020 / 07:11 pm (CNA).- The Italian bishop of a missionary region of Ethiopia is the first Catholic bishop known to have died of the global coronavirus pandemic. He died March 25.

Bishop Angelo Moreschi, 67, was the leader of Ethiopia’s Apostolic Vicariate of Gambella, a missionary region of 25,000 Catholics in the western part of the country. He died Wednesday in the Italian city of Brescia, in the Lombardy region that has become the European epicenter of the pandemic.

A member of the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order, Moreschi had been a missionary in Ethiopia since 1991. He was ordained a bishop in January 2010.

“The Salesian community mourns the death of the Apostolic Vicar of Gambella (Ethiopia), namely Msgr. Angelo Moreschi, SDB, who died today, March 25, in Brescia (Italy) due to the coronavirus,” the Salesians of Don Bosco said in a statement released through the order’s information bureau.
The secretary general of Ethiopia’s bishops’ conference announced the news in the country, announced conveying “deep condolences to the Clergy, religious, bereaved family and the lay faithful in the Apostolic Vicariate of Gambella.”

To the mourning people of the Gambella vicariate, the country’s bishops pledged the “closeness and prayers of members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia and the entire Catholic Church in Ethiopia. May his soul rest in peace.”

Bishop Moreschi was renowned in Ethiopia for his pastoral ministry to the service of young people and the poor. In the local dialect, he was afforded the title “Abba,” meaning “Father.”

“In his mission as prefect and then as apostolic vicar, he continued to embody the Salesian focus in helping children, accompanying them by his practical spirit and his strong apostolic zeal,” the Salesians of Don Bosco stated.

“In his visits to the villages, they still remember when the Salesian arrived with a battered SUV – or by motorboat in the villages along the Baro river when the roads were flooded – and he immediately began to distribute multi-vitamin biscuits to malnourished children.”

Bishop Moreschi died “after serving the young, the poor and his flock of souls as a Salesian for 46 years, as a priest for 38, and as a bishop for over 10,” the Salesians said.

More than 60 priests have died in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 21,000 lives globally. Several bishops have contracted the virus.


This story was first reported by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.



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Houthi court in Yemen upholds death sentence of Baha’i man

March 24, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Sanaa, Yemen, Mar 24, 2020 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- A Yemeni appeals court run by Houthi rebels on Sunday upheld the death sentence of a member of the Baha’i religion. The court also ordered the dissolution of Baha’i institutions.

Hamed bin Haydara was detained by Houthi rebels in 2013, and was denied access to a March 22 appeal hearing in Sanaa which upheld an earlier death sentence.

“This alarming decision is an egregious violation of religious freedom and the fundamental rights of Yemeni Baha’is,” Gayle Manchin, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said March 23. “USCIRF has been long concerned with the welfare of Mr. bin Haydara and the Yemeni Baha’i community. We call on Houthi authorities to immediately reverse this verdict and cease their baseless persecution of this peaceful religious minority.”

According to USCIRF, bin Haydara was charged with “with spying for Israel, teaching literacy classes deemed incompatible with Islam, and attempting to convert Muslims.”

The Baha’i International Community said it was “utterly dismayed at this outrageous verdict” and demanded the court reverse the decision, AFP reported.

“At a time when the international community is battling a global health crisis, it is incomprehensible that the authorities in Sanaa have upheld a death sentence against an innocent individual solely because of his beliefs instead of focusing on safeguarding the population, including Baha’is,” said Diane Ala’i, a Baha’i representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

According to AFP, the Houthis have sought to ban the Baha’i religion.. The Houthi movement’s courts have started proceedings against 20 members of the religion, six of whom have been detained. The movement controls Sanaa and much of the westernmost part of the country.

In January, Pope Francis told Holy See diplomats that the crisis in Yemen is “one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent history.”

The civil war between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabian-led coalition has killed over 100,000 people since 2015. According to a Center of Strategic and International Studies report, the war has also caused nearly 24 million people to be in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Restraint on humanitarian organizations and aerial attacks has left 80% of Yemen’s population in need of food, fuel, and medicine, the CSIS Task Force on Humanitarian Access reported.

The Associated Press reported in February that half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs had been blocked by the Houthi rebels. The rebels had requested that 2% of the humanitarian budget be given directly to them, heightening concerns that the group has been diverting charitable funds to finance the war.

In recent years, the pope has often asked for prayers for the Yemeni people in his public audiences.

“Pray hard, because there are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, who have no medicine, and are in danger of death,” Pope Francis said during an Angelus address in February 2019.


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Nonprofit seeks to provide computers to Iraqi Christian schools

March 12, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

Erbil, Iraq, Mar 12, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- While Christian schools in Iraq continue to suffer, a non-profit that promotes positive engagement in the Middle East is aiming to provide computers to Assyrian Christian schools.

In partnership with the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, the Philos Project is trying to raise $25,000 to install computer labs for Christian schools throughout northern Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan has seen a drastic decrease in educational funds, said Juliana Taimoorazy, advocacy fellow for the Philos Project and founder of Iraqi Christian Relief Council.

“These schools don’t have what they need from a technology perspective,” she said.

“It’s really debilitating because they’re unable to type on Word for example, physically or create spreadsheets. Everything they’re doing is by theory. I mean, you can imagine how integral computers are in our daily lives,” she said, pointing to the fact that most homes in Western culture have a computer.

She said that out of 23 Christian schools in the area, the project will provide computer labs for five of them. The Christian schools range from elementary to high school.

These computer labs will consist of printers, projectors, and at least five laptops, electrical wires, and internet routers.

For four years, these schools in Iraq have requested Taimoorazy for new computers because scarcely any families have this technology themselves and the few schools that do have these machines own computers that were manufactured around 2004. 

“I kid you not, they have books. They study book to book through pages [on how to] create spreadsheets, how to turn it on and off, how to do a cut and paste, how to create a graphic for example, or attach a graphic into the word document,” she said.

Taimoorazy, who is the granddaughter of a survivor of the Armenian genocide, has also been persecuted in Iraq for her faith. She said Christian children not only face difficulties to obtain their education but they have also been persecuted. During her time in Iraq, she talked about times when she was not allowed to play with Muslim children and moments when she was ridiculed for her faith.

She said that since the invasion of the Islamic State funds for Christian schools have drastically decreased.

“People started giving to life-sustaining projects like food, tents, and repairing their homes, if they’re going back to their homes. The amount of money that was allocated for schools, for teachers or transportation or printing books and translating books from Kurdish to Assyrian or Syrian, it’s dropped to really a very, very low level.”

Among other hardships that these schools face, she said educators continue to teach without being paid and some students are not able to access school because of a lack of transportation.

However, she said they are strong-willed people with a deep respect for education. Some of the students are even trilingual, understanding Turkish, Arabic, and Kurdish. She said that while parents will struggle with the basic necessities, these families will sacrifice to further their children’s education.

“They’re actually resilient children, but they haven’t seen anything but war, devastation, hunger, and yet they have such love, profound love for education,” she said.

“[These] people will grow up to go out there in the world to serve humanity and based on their own experience, based on the trauma that they’ve gone through, they can be even more impactful. I come from a traumatized generation … We suffer from collective and generational trauma. We have been persecuted. My great grandparents were persecuted.”

She expressed hope that the worldwide Christian community and people of goodwill will take this project seriously. She stressed the importance of offering these children equal opportunities in technology, noting that, in order to be successful, these children must have hands-on experience with computers.

“We have to remember what John Paul II said that ‘the Church breathes with both lungs’ and we cannot forget the right lung of the Church, which is Eastern Christianity. So my plea to the Catholic world, to the Christian world in the West is not to forget their brothers and sisters in the East, and to really help these young minds, these young children to lead dignified lives,” she said.


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Israeli forces kill Palestinian minor in West Bank

March 11, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Jerusalem, Mar 11, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Mohammed Hamayal, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, was shot and killed by Israeli troops Wednesday during a clash in the West Bank.

He was killed during a March 11 Palestinian protest of Israeli settlers near Beita, some 40 miles north of Jerusalem.

According to Israel, 500 Palestinians were rioting, setting tires on fire and throwing rocks at its security forces.

In response to the rock throwing, Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas, a witness told the BBC.

According to Palestinian officials, another 17 people were injured in the clash.

The Israeli army said that “we are aware of a report regarding a killed Palestinian and several injured. The incident will be reviewed.”

Israeli settlers have been trying to gain control of a hill in the Beita area, according to Palestinians.

Beita residents have held daily sit-ins on the hill since Feb. 28, “when settlers made the first attempt to seize the mountain and turn it into an Israeli religious tourist route,” Wafa, a Palestinian news agency, reported.

Some 600,000 Israeli Jews live in about 140 settlements in the West Bank, according to the BBC. Under international law, the settlements are generally considered illegal, though Israel disputes this.

Israel has in recent years been building a security wall through Palestinian land in the West Bank believed to be linked to the protection of the settlers.

In January US president Donald Trump and Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a two-state peace plan for Israel and Palestine, which was rejected by the state of Palestine.

The US bishops have encouraged Israel and Palestine to “negotiate directly” with each other and to agree on a common resolution for peace.

“Intrinsic to a fruitful discussion is the necessity that each state recognizes and supports the legitimacy of each other,” Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, said in a Feb. 3 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump and Netanyahu unveiled their plan Jan. 28, which includes an independent Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

Despite this, Trump insisted that Jerusalem would also remain “Israel’s undivided— very important— undivided capital.” The United States moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2017.

A group of bishops from the United States and Europe visiting the Holy Land in January called on their countries’ governments to acknowledge the state of Palestine and to apply international law in Israel and the surrounding area in order to promote peace and justice.

“Our governments must do more to meet their responsibilities for upholding international law and protecting human dignity. In some cases they have become actively complicit in the evils of conflict and occupation,” the bishops said Jan. 16.

The bishops said it was “painfully clear” that living conditions for the people of the Holy Land are worsening, particularly “in the West Bank where our sisters and brothers are denied even basic rights including freedom of movement.”

The visiting bishops said that local bishops warn “that people are facing further ‘evaporation of hope for a durable solution’.” They added: “We have witnessed this reality first-hand, particularly how construction of settlements and the separation wall is destroying any prospect of two states existing in peace.”

The bishops encouraged their own countries’ governments to find political solutions to the conflicts in the Holy Land, including: “insisting upon the application of international law; following the Holy See’s lead in recognizing the State of Palestine, addressing the security concerns of Israel and the right of all to live in safety, rejecting political or economic support for settlements, and resolutely opposing acts of violence or abuses of human rights by any side.”

The Vatican recognized the state of Palestine in May 2015.