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Christians assess damage on Iraq’s Nineveh plain, ravaged by ISIS

January 24, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Erbil, Iraq, Jan 24, 2017 / 12:03 am (Aid to the Church in Need).- “I don’t understand how people can harm each other so much,” sighs security guard Louis Petrus. Petrus recently returned to his hometown for the first time: the Christian city of Qaraqosh, near Mosul, which he had to flee in August 2014, when Islamic State captured the largest Christian city on the Nineveh plain.

He told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Look at my house: it is damaged, most of my furniture has been stolen and my household effects are broken. Other inhabitants of Qaraqosh had prepared me for what I would find in the city. I had heard stories and seen pictures of the destruction caused by the jihadists. Now that I am seeing the city with my own eyes, I do not know what to feel. The terrorists have destroyed a lot of my possessions.”

Father Sharbil Eeso, a 72-year-old Syrian Catholic priest, also returned to the town, also known as Bakhdida. He found the seminary in shambles. In search of hidden treasures, the occupiers brought down ceilings and destroyed statues.

“We are not allowed to clear up the mess yet,” the priest said, adding that “first the damage needs to be assessed carefully and documented thoroughly, and that can only start when the city is safe. Last week, a jihadist emerged from the tunnel system which ISIS has built underneath the city. The army immediately shot and killed him: it was a 13-year-old boy.”

The jihadists made full use of the churches in Qaraqosh, even writing battle instructions on church walls. St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church was turned into a bomb factory; hundreds of bombs and grenades, in all shapes and sizes, are still lying there. There are also supplies of deadly chemicals, ingredients to make powerful explosives.

Like Father Eeso, Louis Petrus firmly intends to return to Qaraqosh. He said: “I don’t want to leave Iraq, unless all the inhabitants stay away and leave. But if two or three families return to Qaraqosh, I will too. This is my country. As soon as it is safe in the city and we receive permission to live here again, I want to rebuild my life in Qaraqosh. This is my place, I shall remain here until I die.”

“We really want to return to Qaraqosh, with our children,” said the mayor of the city, Nisan Karromi. But he added, “it will be a long time before all damages will be repaired.”

“We not only have to reconstruct and rebuild this city, but we also have to compensate the people for the damages they have suffered,” he said. “Now that the Iraqi government is in crisis, the international community will have to help make Iraq habitable again.”

Another concern Christians have is that both the Iraqi government and the Kurds – whose forces chased out the Islamic State – have designs on their land.

Manal Matti recently visited the blackened church of the Immaculate Conception. She is surprised by the mannequins that are spread out across the church grounds, shot through with bullets.

“The jihadists used the church as a shooting range, and the mannequins as targets,” she said, horrified. The woman used to run a beauty salon, just steps away from the church. She pondered: “I do not know when I will ever be able to see the inhabitants of Qaraqosh coming again to my beauty salon.”


Jaco Klamer writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. (USA); (UK); (AUS); (IRL); (CAN) (Malta)


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‘We must never become accustomed’ to the Holy Land occupation

January 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Jerusalem, Jan 20, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The 50 year-long of occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza by Israel must be at the attention of every Christian and demands resolution, the chair of the Holy Land Coordination said Thursday.

“Our Coordination has called for justice and peace every year since 1998, yet the suffering continues. So this call must get louder. As Bishops we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action,” Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chair of the Holy Land Coordination, wrote in a Jan. 19 statement. The statement was signed by another 11 bishops, including Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces.

The communique marked the conclusion of an annual week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land by the group, made up of bishops from Europe, North America, and South Africa. The Holy Land Coordination is encouraged in its work by the Holy See as it supports the local Church in Palestine and Israel.

“For fifty years the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have languished under occupation, violating the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis,” Bishop Lang said. “This is a scandal to which we must never become accustomed”

“So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarising social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation,” Bishop Lang wrote. “Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity.”

The bishop also stated that we have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are home to some 600,000 Israelis. Under international law, the settlements are considered illegal, though Israel disputes this.

The settlers’ “de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the UN recently recognised, also imperils the chance of peace,” Bishop Lang stated.

Turning to the situation of the Gaza Strip, he said Gazans, “who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe,” need assistance. “They have now spent a decade under blockade, compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.”

He continued to say apathy can never be a response to the scandal, and it is the job of every Christian to help the local Church, as well as its agencies, volunteers, and non-governmental organizations.

“We all have a responsibility to encourage non-violent resistance. This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land including the Cremisan Valley.”

The proposed Israeli security barrier route effectively confiscates Palestinian land, and compromises the ministry of Christian institutions and the rights of Christian landowners.

Bishop Lang added that “we all have a responsibility to promote a two-state solution,” noting that the Holy See has said, “if Israel and Palestine do not agree to exist side-by-side, reconciled and sovereign within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders, peace will remain a distant dream and security an illusion.”

Bishop Lang ended the communiqué with a biblical quote about the Jubilee, the ancient practice of the Kingdom of Israel of liberating slaves and forgiving debts every 50 years: “You will declare this fiftieth year to be sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the country’s inhabitants,” he said, quoting Leviticus 25:10.

“During this fiftieth year of occupation we must pray for the liberty of everyone in the Holy Land and practically support all those working to build a just peace,” he concluded.