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September 2017

God • World • Human Family • Church


Shepherding the Flock in Jordan Reaching the Margins in Lebanon Nurturing Faith in Syria Starting Over After ISIS in Iraq



Hard Choices Iraq’s Christians face homes in ruin and a future in doubt by Raed Rafei



Jordan’s Christian Shepherds Can technology preserve an ancient way of life? text by Dale Gavlak photographs by Nader Daoud


Love as a Healing Balm Families cope with tragedy and cling to hope text by Diane Handal photographs by Nadim Asfour


Reaching the Margins How the church serves Lebanon’s most vulnerable by Don Duncan


A Letter From Syria by Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas


4 36

Connections to CNEWA’s world Focus on the world of CNEWA

t Najwa Saadeh visits with the sisters and staff who administer the St. Joseph High School in Bethlehem.



Volume 43 NUMBER 3



When they needed a helping hand you didn’t turn away Thank you for helping CNEWA work thousands of small miracles

18 Front: Sister Luma Khudher plays with children at a camp in Erbil for displaced Iraqis. Back: A hearing-impaired student signs at the Father Roberts Institute for Deaf Children. Photo Credits Front cover, pages 3 (upper right), 28-31, 33-34, Raed Rafei; pages 2, 14-16, Nadim Asfour; page 3 (top), CNS photo/Paul Haring; pages 3 (upper left), 6-13, Nader Daoud; pages 3 (lower left), 18-19, 21-23, Don Duncan; pages 3 (lower right), 3 (far right), 36-39, back cover, John E. Kozar/CNEWA; pages 4-5, CNEWA; page 20, Christopher Kennedy; pages 24-28, Courtesy Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas; page 32, CNS photo/ Paul Jeffrey. Publisher Msgr. John E. Kozar Editorial Staff Paul Grillo Deacon Greg Kandra Michael J.L. La Civita Elias Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. J.D. Conor Mauro Timothy McCarthy

36 ONE is published quarterly. ISSN: 1552-2016 CNEWA Founded by the Holy Father, CNEWA shares the love of Christ with the churches and peoples of the East. CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches to identify needs and implement reasonable solutions. CNEWA connects you to your brothers and sisters in need. Together, we build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue — and inspire hope. Officers Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Chair and Treasurer Msgr. John E. Kozar, Secretary Editorial Office 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195 1-212-826-1480 ©2017 Catholic Near East Welfare Association. All rights reserved. Member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

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to CNEWA’s world

‘Magazine of the Year’ CNEWA’s flagship publication, ONE, took top honors, including Magazine of the Year (in the mission magazine category) during the annual meeting of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, held this year in late June in Quebec City, Canada. The magazine won a total of 31 awards — the most in its history — in categories that included writing, photography, graphic design and digital media. Citing the overall excellence of the publication, the award judges concluded: “Some publications seem almost flawless; this is an example.” CNEWA’s president, and the publisher of ONE, Msgr. John E. Kozar, received a first place award for his photo essay, “A Pictorial Journey to Egypt.” The judges were impressed in particular by the subjects he captured and noted, “Two words that come to mind immediately are commitment and hardship. … The images of the community and its members highlight their hardships and how they remain committed.” The magazine also won first place awards for personality profiles, layouts, photographs and reporting on social justice issues.

New Directions in Jerusalem Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel since September 2009, has accepted an offer to assist Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in the financial administration and management of the patriarchate — the first layman to function in this capacity. The move took effect on 1 September. “Although this move represents a loss to be sure,” wrote CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, in a letter to donors and partners, “it also reflects the esteem that Archbishop Pizzaballa gives to Sami and to CNEWA-Pontifical Mission in asking for his assistance.



The panel of judges was comprised of journalism professors from Marquette University and Spring Hill College. For a complete list of ONE’s awards, with links to the stories, visit web/cpa2017.

“We are honored that Sami has answered this call to serve the Church of Jerusalem. He has always distinguished himself by his keen intellect, his very open heart to others and his strong leadership abilities. This leadership has gone far beyond our office and has been very well recognized by many church leaders and dedicated Christians in this very challenging part of the world.” We wish Sami well in his new endeavor — ma’bruk! Milk to Iraqi Refugee Children In August, 257 Iraqi refugee families living in the Jordanian capital city of Amman received milk and other supplies for their children under the age of 3.

“It was a very touching day, receiving the parents and some of their children and helping them feel part of the CNEWA family,” wrote CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, Ra’ed Bahou, about the day that included visits with the staff and the team of the Pontifical Mission Community Center. CNEWA’s President Honored On 1 August, the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association awarded CNEWA’s Msgr. Kozar its Distinguished Alumnus Award, noting that “the award was begun in 1990 to honor alumni who exemplify the Gospel values and who have provided exemplary service in their lives or professions.”

OUR WEBSITE OUR BLOG Msgr. Kozar attended Saint Meinrad High School and College of the Benedictine Archabbey of Saint Meinrad, graduating in 1967 and continuing his seminary studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1971. Ad multos annos! Saving Lives in India

distress; Asara, an institution for children with special needs abandoned by their families; and Premashram, a home for girls operated by the Sisters of the Helpers of Mary. “For decades, CNEWA has responded to the various needs of the church in Gorakhpur,” Mr. Thomas wrote, “especially in support of sick children and the poor, in whatever way we can.” You can read more about CNEWA’s work in Gorakhpur on our blog, ONE-TO-ONE at: indiadiocese. Thanks From Ethiopia Recently, our office in Ethiopia received this wonderful note of thanks from Berhanu Kebede, who

Each year, encephalitis kills scores of children in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Gorakhpur in northeastern India, a flood-prone area near the border with the mountainous kingdom of Nepal. This year, reports CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, dozens of children have died. The situation has become dire during this year’s monsoon season, which has unleashed dangerous flooding that has spread the disease. With thanks to its donors, CNEWA has rushed funds to an encephalitis awareness program and medical camp administered by the eparchy. CNEWA is also providing additional support to the church’s Fatima Hospital to provide further treatment and free medical checkups to rickshaw pullers and the destitute. CNEWA has long assisted the eparchy in its mission among the poor, the helpless and the abandoned, supporting Shelter Home at Padribazar for children in

attended the Kidane Mehret Catholic School in Dessie. The school receives support from CNEWA’s generous benefactors. Mr. Kebede wanted us to know that after graduating from the school, he went on to a university, where he received a degree in medical laboratory science. He is now an lecturer at a nearby college. “I am doing my best to help my family as I can,” he writes. “I am going to visit Kidane Mehret School and try to motivate the students [by] telling my experience. I want to thank my school, teachers and all staffs, and all the benefactors who supported me from the beginning.” We can only echo his words of gratitude to all our generous supporters who are improving the lives of so many around the world.

Only on the Web


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There is more to discover about CNEWA’s world online: • Msgr. Kozar shares his reflections on the Middle East at • Spend time with Jordan’s Christian Bedouin at • Read more background and context to some of the important issues in CNEWA’s world in a new feature, “CNEWA Connections,” on our blog • Learn more about the Holy See’s Congregation for Eastern Churches, as it marks its 100th anniversary at • Read the latest update from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, returning to their home in Iraq at




Accompanying the Church

Jordan’s Christian Shepherds Can technology preserve an ancient way of life? text by Dale Gavlak with photographs by Nader Daoud


oung and old crowd the wooden pews of a village church in the south of Jordan one recent Sunday evening. The congregation waits with eager anticipation to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with the Rev. Boulos Baqa’in, 56, an energetic priest closely connected to his flock. Some of the elders proudly don their traditional white robe-like garb with matching head covering, or keffiyeh, topped by a thin black cord — a symbol of their Bedouin roots. The youth wear jeans and sneakers. Despite differences in age and dress, the Christians of Ader’s St. George Melkite Greek Catholic Church all agree on this: Their most pressing need is jobs for their youth. As local employment opportunities dry up, their university graduates look elsewhere for work, a factor endangering the future of the area’s rich Christian heritage.



Teriza Hijazine and Aziza Boulos call the southern Jordanian Christian village of Smakieh home.

“It was very difficult for my parents to see me go,” says 24-yearold Malik Hijazine, a member of the church who now works at a Christian school in the Jordanian capital, Amman. “We discussed the situation together and I helped them with things in the house, so when I traveled the situation lightened,” he says. Mr. Hijazine has returned to Ader for a week to help supervise a

summer youth camp held at the church. “It helps that I have a brother here for the moment, but my other brother and sister live and work in Aqaba, even farther south,” he says, with concern evident in his voice. “Our area is economically depressed. There is nothing for the youth to look forward to here in terms of developments,” the young man explains. “Finding good employment is difficult, so you are forced to go to the capital to get work — or to Jordan’s sole port city of Aqaba.” Others travel even farther away, often to the Arab Gulf countries, in search of jobs. Mr. Hijazine hails from a prominent Christian Bedouin tribe that originated from the Hijaz, a region found in present-day western Saudi Arabia. The Hijazine have existed as a Christian tribe with an unbroken lineage originating long before the advent of Islam in the seventh century.

A parish elder celebrates the Divine Liturgy in St. George Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Ader.



The CNEWA Connection t Children attend a summer camp at a Catholic church in Ader. u Ismaeel Maiatah grazes his sheep on the outskirts of Ader.

The challenges confronting Jordan’s Christian Bedouin are not new. For decades, the leadership of the Christian community in the kingdom has tried to stabilize village life and beef up catechesis; when young Bedouin leave their native Christian village for Amman, where they encounter an Islamic society, their tribal and cultural Christianity is challenged. CNEWA’s efforts in these Bedouin villages of Jordan date to the 1950’s, and over the ensuing decades have included a plethora of projects, including the renovation and restoration of the parish churches; the installation of parish playgrounds and parish centers; improvements to village water distribution systems; agricultural programs designed to develop new crops and improve the breeding of sheep; and programs such as the one profiled in these pages. While the pressure to migrate for jobs remains, better planning, formation and education has better prepared those who have migrated to Amman or further afield. To learn how you can help, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). Over time they moved northward, first to Jordan’s ancient rose-red city of Petra and then to the area around the city of Kerak, home to one of the largest Crusader castles in the Middle East. “Many Catholic priests have come from the Hijazine family, at least 16 and many sisters over the last several decades,” says Ra’ed Bahou,



regional director of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) in Amman. Ader and other nearby villages not far from Kerak, he says, have supplied the bulk of Latin and Melkite Greek Catholic and Orthodox priests and religious for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Most Jordanian Bedouin are Muslim. Past economic and social pressures encouraged large numbers to embrace Islam, especially after the tenth century. Yet, as with the Hijazine, there remain Jordanian tribes such as the Akasheh, Halaseh, and Baqa’in who have clung to their Christian faith throughout the centuries. Christians and Muslims live together in Kerak, and the surrounding villages of Ader and Raba. But the nearby hamlets of Smakieh and Hmoud are believed to be the last remaining Christian villages in Jordan. In these communities, an ancient way of life is rapidly vanishing as a young generation moves on, leaving behind parents and grandparents facing an uncertain future. Yet the Christian faith that has served as their stronghold for centuries continues to offer these villagers support and hope — in ways their ancestors could never have imagined.


oftly rolling hills parched by the summer sun hug an enchanting roadside linking Ader and Smakieh, where one will find the occasional shepherd, looking as though he has stepped straight out of a story from the New Testament. Sheep running down a hilltop through a dry field — becoming enveloped in a haze of dust — are all that disturbs the quiet stillness of the pastoral scene. In Smakieh, elders at the St. George Melkite Greek Catholic church meet with the Rev. Ayham Ziyadeh, 34, to discuss local concerns. Outside, boisterous

These are communities where an ancient way of life is rapidly vanishing.

children and teens chat and play before the liturgy. “In 15 or 20 years, you won’t find anyone left in these villages, says 58-year-old Kamal Akasheh. “Most of our sons and daughters must leave to the big cities to find jobs there.” Mr. Akasheh has lived his entire life in the village, which also

contains a Roman Catholic church, a tiny grocery and a handful of other shops. “If you take a tour of Smakieh now, you’ll find about 20 houses without any inhabitants,” the whitehaired man says. “You’ll find another 15 to 20 houses whose residents stay perhaps two or three days of the

week, with the rest of their time spent in Amman.” These changes correspond to shifts in the economy. At one time, residents could count on having a full career without uprooting. “I am now retired, but I was an English teacher,” Mr. Akasheh says. In his retirement, he still keeps busy. “Now I am a farmer, but my



children won’t work as farmers. That’s why I say the near future looks grim.” The fear Mr. Akasheh expresses is common among the elders, who want their children to remain nearby. “In some years, their parents will pass away. And then what will happen here? The young will remain in the city.” Mjalle Bawalsah, a 55-year-old who still works as an English teacher, says the villagers’ Christian faith helps support them in these troubled times, but they also need practical help.



“If we were not believers, we wouldn’t stay here. We are proud to have a village with all Christians, one of the last in the south. Although we are frustrated, we are proud to be Christians in this desert land, far from civilization and everything,” Mr. Bawalsah adds. “We suffer like saints,” he says, perhaps a reference to the Desert Saints of the early church. “But we want to keep our village,” he adds. “We want to see more people live here, to build homes and lives. That would be so much better for us.”

Retired bank employee Jamal Massadeh, 58, says no businesses are setting up shop in the region: “There’s no chance to be employed.” When asked to describe their daily life, he and his friends laugh. “There is nothing to do — no projects, no business, no future. If there were opportunities and projects then we, others and our families could actually work,” says Mr. Massadeh. Often, the elderly of the villages while away their hours sitting outside, weather permitting, and chatting or watching television.

t Children socialize outside St. George Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Ader. u For residents of Smakieh, young and old, their parish lies at the center of social life.

However, this tide may yet turn. Fathers Baqa’in and Ziyadeh, in cooperation with CNEWA, are working on an initiative that could reverse the fortunes of the local population through new skills and technologies. “We want to be able to fish. This is what we need,” says Father Baqa’in, referring to the well-known proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” CNEWA has introduced a powerful internet connection between its Pontifical Mission Community Center in Amman and that of Ader’s Melkite Greek Catholic parish church to provide education on pertinent health, education and cultural issues, as well as training in practical skills — such as information technology — by professionals in these fields based in Amman. Because of Ader’s status as a de facto hub, equidistant to Kerak and the other villages by some nine miles, the village is well suited to reach these various small communities. “This is how we will open up these villages to the outside world,” says Ra’ed Bahou, regional director of CNEWA in Amman. Mr. Bahou says such a program should be conducted in a practical way, tailored to what the residents feel they need most. “There will be interaction,” he says. “If it works, we’ll do it in other villages.” Mr. Bahou bills this undertaking as time sensitive, and says action is required now. “We want these

villages to survive, and for the people to adjust with what’s going in Amman and the rest of the world.” These changes elsewhere include the use of technology to introduce innovation and overcome isolation, changes he sees as a source of hope. “Ending isolation, providing useful information and opening the eyes of the villagers to new opportunities and new perspectives could help reanimate these communities. “Maybe they can create jobs from their houses, thanks to the information superhighway.”

Mr. Bahou explains that being able to remain in Kerak and the surrounding villages would allow people to enjoy cheaper living expenses, while perhaps earning as much as they would in Amman. In that way, their income would go even further, spared steep rents and other costs. Needless to say, there are familial and church ties that make such an initiative appealing to these Christians, as well as their Muslim neighbors. “Emotionally, these people want to remain and live in their villages



and to be near their families,” he says of the more than 1,300 Christian families — some 8,000 individuals — in the Kerak governorate. “This is a project for all: the elderly, youth, women and men. It may be hard at first, but they know now with social media and outside connections of the need to adapt to this new era,” Mr. Bahou says. “I believe people will be happy, especially the pensioners. “No one,” he adds, “is working for the elderly.” Mr. Bahou says that CNEWA has been involved in the area since the early 1950’s promoting pastoral, developmental and catechetical projects. Among these have been



the renovation and restoration of churches as well as income generation projects such as sheep breeding and truck rentals. “We have helped these communities for decades and want to continue our support of the local churches here,” he says of the villages whose sons and daughters serve the church worldwide as priests, religious and lay leaders.


n December 2016, six young Jordanian men sympathetic to ISIS carried out a terrorist attack in Kerak, killing a Canadian tourist and 13 Jordanians. The assault jolted the nearby Christians and Muslim communities alike, which

have a long history of mutual respect and cooperation. To promote continued faith and hope in the community, Bishop Lionel Gendron of SaintJean-Longueuil visited the region in January on behalf of the Canadian Catholic bishops. CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, and CNEWA’s Canadian national director, Carl Hétu, joined him — the first non-Jordanian civilians to visit the area in the wake of the terrible incident. A shepherd leads his flock down a street between the Christian villages surrounding the city of Kerak in southern Jordan.

“Although the Christian communities near Kerak are somewhat isolated, all know what is happening to their brothers and sisters of the faith in Iraq and Syria,” recalls Mr. Hétu. “Our visit was intended to express our solidarity and our commitment to the region for the long haul.” At the grassroots level, Father Baqa’in strives to keep his parish and community healthy, hopeful and prosperous. He sees the new internet training program as critical to this aim, and has been a driving force behind it. “Fresh ideas and thinking are wonderful for the old. We also hope to offer skills for the youth and allow job prospects to take root in the villages,” the priest says. “In Amman, people find that it’s all about business, with few social relationships. But in the villages, there are relationships between all the Christians and our neighbors. We hope to find plenty of work for them,” says Father Baqa’in. Smakieh’s Father Ziyadeh agrees, adding: “We are interested in improving our church and our lives — everything.” Parishioners, too, are excited about the possibilities. Nasreen Moukieen, 32, believes technological training will prove invaluable. She and many of her neighbors are eager for the planned seminars on medical and dietary issues, as they have the usual health concerns as they age. In this region, Sameh Kowaleed says, “no real possibilities for entertainment centers, clubs or gardens to socialize exist.” The 42-year-old hopes the initiative will provide “a fresh wave of opportunity, culture and creativity to the people of the south.” Shammas Safwan Ziyadeh, 28, says he was among the few lucky youth in Ader to find a job there with the Catholic charity Caritas,

Show the families in Jordan that they’re not forgotten Please help today

aiding Syrian refugees sheltering in the area. “When I tried to find work here, it was extremely difficult. But the initiative would be a great help to everybody and wonderful legacy for the Kerak region as a whole,” he says. “Christians are the lighthouse for the entire region,” says Atef Baqa’in, one of the Ader parish elders. “Our Muslim neighbors tell us so, saying we have commitment and moral character,” adds the 64-year-old. “Pope Francis has remarked to the effect that the Middle East without Christians is not the Middle East,” says Ader’s Melkite Greek Catholic pastor, Father Baqa’in. “We want to remain in our land. We want to remain in our country,” he adds, underscoring the importance of seizing this opportunity quickly.

Mr. Bahou agrees, and affirms his commitment to see it through. “Jordan is the Holy Land. We tell our friends in the West that, and of the need to support the local Christian communities who have flourished here since the church began,” Mr. Bahou says. “Otherwise at the end, each one will make the decision to leave, and that will be the end.” Based in the Middle East, Dale Gavlak has reported for CNEWA from Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.




Responding to Human Needs

Love as a Healing Balm Families cope with tragedy and cling to hope text by Diane Handal with photographs by Nadim Asfour


he graffiti-glazed wall severing the West Bank of Palestine from the state of Israel has many names. Israelis term it a “security barrier” against terrorism. Palestinians call it an “apartheid wall.” Whatever its name, the 440-mile fortification severely disrupts movement, divides land, cuts off access to services and resources, and undermines agricultural and rural livelihoods throughout the West Bank. The massive structure is all the more striking for its sparse surroundings: a desert landscape of beige, accented by an occasional cluster of buildings or green trees, with black water tanks in the distance. Due to the scarcity of water in this arid region, people depend on cisterns to collect rainwater and store well water. “We have water through the wells that come from the mountains 300 yards down,” says George Saadeh, principal of Shepherds High School in the largely Christian town of Beit Sahour, which is adjacent to Bethlehem. “But Israel controls the wells. We have to buy water



when it runs out, and it is very expensive,” he says. The convenience of constant access to drinkable water is not known to the Saadeh family — nor is mobility. “Palestinians are prevented from moving freely. I cannot take my children to see the Mediterranean Sea, which is a half an hour away,” he adds, his olive skin highlighted

by the white hair around his temples. All travel beyond the West Bank requires permits, which do not come easily. Even for Christian Palestinians, reaching Jerusalem for Holy Week and Easter can be difficult. It is common in Bethlehem for half of a family to receive the necessary permits while the other half is denied. “Security” is the single biggest reason why the Israeli authorities may deny a permit. Often no reason is given. Such challenges are customary for the Saadeh family — and for the nearly three million Palestinians who live in the West Bank. But for the Saadehs, theirs is a life overshadowed by violence and heartbreak that have tested their Christian faith. Their story, as with so many others in occupied territories, is one of struggle and survival. But it also turns out to be a story of confronting the pain of the past — and finding reason to hope. Najwa Saadeh says she draws the strength to forgive from her faith.


eorge Saadeh and his wife, Najwa, live within a framework of concrete walls and checkpoints. Both hail from Bethlehem. Mr. Saadeh attended Terra Sancta College, a primary and secondary school run by the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, and then studied aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He returned to Bethlehem in 1983 to work and teach, marrying his neighbor, Najwa, in 1986. In 1999, Mr. Saadeh began serving as vice principal of Shepherd High School, and became its principal in 2002. Najwa Saadeh, a Syriac Christian whose family left Turkey during the tumult of the World War I era, attended Bethlehem’s St. Joseph High School and later studied philosophy at Bethlehem University. The curls at the bottom of her dark hair fall loosely on her shoulders as she speaks of her daughter Christine. Dark circles frame her big brown eyes. “Christine was an angel,” her mother says, fingering a locket on a silver necklace around her neck. The locket enshrines a photograph of her seventh-grade daughter

wearing her St. Joseph’s School uniform: a red plaid jacket and white turtleneck. It is here that the Saadeh story turns grim. The Al Aqsa Intifada began in the autumn of 2000 after the collapse of the Camp David summit that summer and the riots that followed the visit of the then prime minister to the Temple Mount — a symbolic

the family’s car with bullets, shattering the windshield. “The glass fell on us,” Mrs. Saadeh says. Her husband turned to his daughters, first seeing that Marian had been shot in the leg. “I called to Christine, but she didn’t answer me.” He then saw Christine lying between the seats. “She had been badly hit,” Mr. Saadeh says; he sustained nine bullets in the back and abdomen, while his wife suffered various shrapnel wounds. He managed to raise his left hand out the window and called out: “We are civilians, don’t shoot!” The gunmen, undercover Israeli soldiers, immediately closed off the area. Mrs. Saadeh says she picked up her daughter and cradled her until an ambulance came 15 minutes later and took them to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. It took surgeons seven hours to remove all the bullets from her husband. His wife and elder daughter survived. Christine did not. Three other civilians, also Palestinians, were also killed in the attack, which locals have come to call the “Shepherd’s Massacre.” “I witnessed those days and it was very difficult,” says the

“Because we love, we can change life.” assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the Holy Site, which includes the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. The uprising continued for about four years, and invaded even peaceful communities such as Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. In the summer of 2003, the conflict hit Saadeh family, tragically. On a rainy evening in June, the couple, along with 12-year-old Christine and her sister, 15-year-old Marian, drove to the market. The family car passed the Shepherd’s Hotel around 7 and, unexpectedly, heavy gunfire erupted, peppering



The CNEWA Connection CNEWA’s presence in the Holy Land, particularly what are known today as Palestine and Israel, dates to its earliest days. But it was the first visit by a pope to the lands of Jesus, writes our former regional director in Jerusalem, Sami El-Yousef, that set the present course of CNEWA in its service to the church of Jerusalem. “In 1964, Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land and called for new Christian efforts to provide services to the community at large. And he urged CNEWA to coordinate worldwide Catholic aid so as to provide services in education and health and social services.” The Saadeh family — who shared with us here their story of loss and hope — are just a few of the many local Christians who have brought to life these efforts of Blessed Paul VI life. “It is our pride that the schools where all members of the Saadeh family were educated or currently work were part of our support through the years. These institutions are the backbone of our Christian presence and the pride of the church.” Rev. Issa Musleh, who also serves as the spokesman for Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III. “I was the spiritual father for the Saadeh family,” he remembers, adding “we lived very sad days.” Father Musleh had to deliver the news to George that his youngest daughter had died of her wounds. “It was a shock for all of us,” he says. “It changed our lives, 180 degrees.” While her husband remained in the hospital recovering, Mrs. Saadeh struggled through the next few days of mourning and the funeral alone. She told The New York Times at the time: “The soldiers were shocked when they saw the



It is impossible to overstate the importance of schools such as Terre Sancta and Bethlehem University and social service works such as the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute for the Deaf. As Mr. El-Yousef puts it: “It is in these institutions where faith is strengthened, and where a value set is instilled that encourages reconciliation, forgiveness and love. These are values that have clearly helped the Saadeh family cope with their tragedy and made them a model to be followed in our troubled societies.” To learn how you can help, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).

girls. They told us, ‘we are very sorry. We didn’t mean to shoot you.’ “They came with us to the hospital. But what does sorry mean to me? I lost my daughter.” Father Musleh welcomed thousands paying condolences — ambassadors, faithful from 13 churches and even a representative of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. “I was alone,” says Mrs. Saadeh. “But I didn’t lose my mind. I was touching Christine’s face and hands at the funeral.” For years afterward, the family struggled to cope with the loss. “I slept in her bed every night,” Najwa says. “I set her plate at the table every night. I made her a

sandwich for her school lunch every day for seven years and asked Marian to give it to a poor student who did not have food.” Marian, Christine’s older sister, was in tenth grade when the attack happened. She suffered greatly, her mother says, but refuses to speak about it. Now 29, Marian is a clinical psychologist and works as a counselor at St. Joseph’s School after having graduated from Bethlehem University. “She has lost her faith,” Marian’s mother says, “but she will get it back in time.” Mrs. Saadeh understands this turn all too well: “I questioned my own faith.

t The Saadehs light a candle in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

“I blamed Jesus so many times that this would happen. But after four years I asked for forgiveness. I look to Jesus to hold my sadness as I am holding his cross since Christine’s death. I pray to the Holy Mother: ‘You endured the same pain I do now; so, I need your help.’ “I always have their help,” she adds. Now, 14 years later, Najwa Saadeh still suffers from stomach problems, sleep deprivation and panic attacks. The Israeli military has admitted its error, claiming it was targeting several wanted men, and apologized. The emotions still raw, Mrs. Saadeh has little use for such an apology. “We are not dogs. We are not animals. We are human beings.”


month after Christine’s death, George Saadeh received a call from a group hoping to meet with him at a gathering in Beit Jala. The Parents Circle Families Forum, a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization of more than 600 families, includes men and women dealing with tragedy and loss, and encourages its members to share their stories, to listen and to offer support. The group is committed to peace and justice, and an end to the military occupation of the West Bank. Its members all have lost family members as a result of the conflict, and now look for ways to create dialogue with a long-term aim of reconciliation. “It’s not easy for us telling our stories all the time,” says Mr. Saadeh. “The politicians don’t like it. On both sides, they say you are crazy speaking about peace — ‘look at what is going on.’ ” Some family members and friends have likewise been critical.

“My Palestinian friends and some family were not understanding toward my work in The Parents Circle with Jewish families,” says Mrs. Saadeh. At a recent meeting, a group of Germans from Pax Christi International, a Catholic international peace movement, met in Bethlehem in the basement of a local hotel. The 15 members of The Parents Circle sat in a circle and listened as George Saadeh recounted his story about Christine. Robi Damelin, who came to Israel in 1967 from South Africa, where she was an anti-apartheid activist, spoke next. Ms. Damelin’s son, David, was completing a master’s degree in the philosophy of education at Tel Aviv University, when the reserves called him for active duty. A peace advocate, David did not wish to enforce the occupation, and agonized over the decision. In the end, he went, believing that with his perspective, he would act as an evenhanded and moral soldier — traits he could not guarantee should someone else go in his place. The Saturday before his death, David called his mother. “This is a terrible place,” he had said. “I feel like a sitting duck.” Two days later, David was one of ten people killed by a sniper. He was 28 years old. His unit was stationed at a checkpoint near Ofra, an Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian land, and considered illegal according to the ruling of the Israeli High Court. “It is impossible to describe what it is to lose a child. Your whole life is totally changed forever,” Ms. Damelin says. “I am the same person — with a lot of pain. Wherever I go, I carry this with me.” Ms. Damelin has asked priests, imams and rabbis about the meaning of forgiveness. The answer

she has synthesized from many responses is: “Giving up your just right to revenge.” “I’ve lived here 69 years. There is no justice and all the world is silent,” says Sister Femia Khoury, principal of St. Joseph’s School in Bethlehem. “No one can understand our situation if not living in this country and seeing what is happening every day.” The commission for justice and peace of the Catholic bishops of the Holy Land last May decried the “normalization” of the IsraelPalestine situation, calling it “an open, festering wound. “The life of the Palestinians is far from normal and acting ‘as if’ things were normal ignores the violation of fundamental human rights,” the statement continues. “Like the prophets of old, the church, a prophetic body, points out injustice and denounces it.” We want to live under freedom and make a better life for our children, George Saadeh says. “We should live together side by side. We don’t want hatred. We want people to come together.” “With revenge,” adds his wife, “we will live like animals. We would destroy ourselves and others. “We have to gain love between nations,” she adds, touching her locket. “Because we love, we can change life.” Diane Handal is a frequent contributor to ONE, focusing on the Middle East.




Care for Marginalized

Reaching the Margins How the church serves Lebanon’s most vulnerable by Don Duncan




hen Wadad Bou DagherKharrat saw the flat line on the monitor, her heart dropped. In 2009, she had brought her 18-month-old twins, Angie and Karl, to have their hearing tested. The children had never seemed to turn their heads when she called them by name. And even if the sound was blaring, they would also sleep in front of the television. Although Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat had searched for benign explanations for these irregularities, she could not argue with the tympanometer’s results that day at the hospital — nor with the consultant who then told her that her children were deaf. After receiving the news, she experienced a feeling she compares to mourning: “We struggled to believe it, to admit that it was true.” This difficult period included a faith struggle. Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat began to question God, to reproach him, asking: “Why us?” For months she and her husband wrestled with this revelation, the internal strife often manifesting as arguments between them. Yet this hardship eventually gave way to an acceptance after which, she says, she has never looked back. “I finally managed to say to God: ‘Thy will be done.’ “From that moment on, I was in an indescribable faith I had never experienced before. Since that moment, I have never faltered once. It was a radical change.” Instead of resisting her children’s deafness, Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat embraced it. This led her, and the children, to the Father Roberts Institute for Deaf Children, a specialized school in the village of Sehaileh, some 40 minutes north of Beirut.

On a recent glorious June afternoon, Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat stood in the main lobby of the school, waiting for her twins to finish the day. It was the last day of the term, bringing the academic year to a close. Summer awaited. Managed by the Basilian Chouerite Sisters of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Father Roberts Institute is one of many Christian institutions that form the mainstay of care in Lebanon for

Wadad Bou Dagher-Kharrat stands with her children, Angie and Karl, at the Father Roberts Institute. t Students join hands to perform the dabke, a folk dance native to the Levant.

those with special needs, such as Angie and Karl; for the aged; and for those with mental illness. The weak Lebanese state has devolved to the point of leaving the provision

of such care mostly to the religious sector. The ethos of care that prevails at the Father Roberts Institute began with one Rev. Ronald Roberts, an English Catholic priest who first came to Lebanon in 1942 as a chaplain in the British army. While there, he noticed a gaping lacuna in the education of children with hearing impairments. He was moved by how society met their condition with stigma and ignorance; deaf children were often kept at home, hidden away and denied the opportunities given to other children. Father Roberts saw education as the best way to counteract this. When he returned to the country in 1959, he established his school for the deaf, with a key focus on providing help and care for the poorest of the poor. Today, that impulse has translated into a comprehensive, multidisciplinary school for deaf children and, more recently, also for children with developmental disabilities. The Father Roberts Institute begins its work with children as young as 6 months old, leading them through the same curriculum followed by all Lebanese students, right up to a high school diploma. Beyond this, the school offers pre-university training courses and vocational training. In parallel to academic studies, children at the institute benefit from an array of therapeutic and clinical support programs — from physical therapy to speech therapy and psychological counseling. “They wouldn’t get this kind of therapy in a mainstream school,” says Joelle Wheibie, the school’s speech therapist.



The CNEWA Connection From the very beginning, CNEWA has devoted considerable resources to helping the neediest people in Lebanon, particularly the poor and the displaced. Our work with the Father Roberts Institute stretches back decades. Founded in 1959 by the Rev. Ronald S. Roberts, who died on Easter in 1983, the institute quickly set the standard for caring for those children who were hearing impaired. As we noted several decades ago in the pages of our magazine, when the school began, “Fr. Roberts relied on God and the goodness of others.” In 1966, he was able to rely, as well, on CNEWA, whose generous donors helped support the daily running expenses of the institution. Since then, the needs throughout the region have only expanded, and CNEWA’s work through the local churches of Lebanon has also grown. We help to provide education, health care, spiritual support and hope to a burgeoning population of refugees. And we continue to minister to the poorest of the poor among Lebanon’s own population, as well. To lend your support to this important mission, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada). Ms. Wheibie sits, microphone in hand, at a “vibration board” along with one of the students, 9-year-old Hamze. Underneath the board is a large speaker to which the microphone is connected. She urges Hamze to make various sounds into the microphone. Using the force of the vibrations coming from the speaker through the board and up his entire body, he can judge how to modulate the force and pitch of his voice. “Using this technique, over time, and combined with other techniques, the child manages to gain power over his or her voice so as to be able to produce pitch and



force appropriate to various contexts,” Ms. Wheibie says. This scene, a small moment of one-on-one care, conveys something grand — a glimpse into just one of the myriad ways men and women of the churches of Lebanon work to serve the underserved, and provide for the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable.


hat ethos of care that guided Father Roberts in his mission also led another towering figure of Lebanon: the Rev. Jacques Haddad. A Lebanese Capuchin priest beatified in 2008, he sought to build institutions to provide care

for the mentally ill, likewise with a focus on the poorest of the poor. He is remembered for having sought out ill children and mentally ill adults at the margins of society, and taking them in to care for them. That spirit lives on today in the institutions he founded — such as the Psychiatric Hospital of the Cross in the Beirut suburb of Jal el Dib — administered by the order he established: the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross. On a recent afternoon, about 20 psychiatric patients at the hospital sit at desks scattered about the room, busy at work in the institution’s art therapy workshop. On the walls around them hang the fruits of their labor: a heterogeneous hodgepodge of paintings, varying in color vibrancy and abstraction. “The act of drawing is very important,” says art therapist Mona Esta. “For the patients, it’s a chance to externalize and express inner conflicts out on the page, through a painting.” Making up between 60 and 70 percent of the hospital population of 550, schizophrenia represents the most common mental illness treated here. Other patients struggle with bipolar disorder and extreme obsessions or phobias, among other conditions. The hospital also treats a growing population of people recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol — or both. Many of these patients have been rejected or abandoned by their families. All have faced hardship, both from their illnesses and the stigmas attached to them. And yet despite — or perhaps because of — this struggle, the flame of faith burns strongly in the hearts of most of the institution’s beneficiaries. “I love my Lord,” says Melanie, a patient in her 60’s at Our Lady’s Hospital for the Chronically Ill, another institution founded by Blessed Jacques and run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Antelias, a suburb of Beirut.

p A Franciscan sister of the Cross guides a patient through Our Lady’s Hospital for the Chronically Ill.

q Father Roberts Institute students study ecology in a greenhouse area.



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“I pray every morning to the sainted Jacques. I offer my day to him.” In the evening, Melanie prays with her rosary beads, using each bead to mark a new intention. “With each new bead, I name a new person I wish to pray for and in that way, I don’t repeat the prayers emptily. Each prayer has its own distinct intention.” Geriatric patients comprise the largest population group in Our Lady’s Hospital for the Chronically Ill — people whose families can or will no longer care for them. Many of these patients suffer from mental conditions, including a large number with Alzheimer’s disease. Sister Tammam Salameh, mother superior of the facility, performs her rounds, spread out across a number of pavilions. On her route, she pauses to exchange words,



jokes and pleasantries with patients and staff alike. Sister Tammam brings to each room a warm and buoyant atmosphere, in juxtaposition to the condition of many of the wards themselves. The age of the buildings, most of them built some 40 years ago, is beginning to show. Patients live in crowded wards, without air conditioning, surrounded by peeling paint. “These buildings are now old and we need to restore and enlarge them. That’s our vision and it’s urgent,” Sister Tammam says as she makes her way between wards. Such a renovation and enlargement project would cost about $1 million, says hospital accountant Elie Rizkallah, but such funding is nowhere to be seen. “We don’t have the money set aside,” he says. “We are living day to day.” Of the 450 patients at the hospital, only 20 are private, fee-paying patients. For public patients, the government pays a symbolic subsidy, which amounts to about $10 per person per day, far below the real costs of care. The Father Roberts Institute and the Psychiatric Hospital of the Cross face this same funding conundrum. United Nations agencies such as UNHCR and UNRWA contribute money respectively for Palestinian and other refugees taken in as patients or beneficiaries. CNEWA and other Catholic agencies, such as l’Œuvre d’Orient assist with nonoperational support. For example, CNEWA has helped the Father Roberts Institute to build a pastry kitchen from which the institute produces, packages and distributes Father Roberts Institute-branded cookies and cakes to supermarkets all over Lebanon. It has become a new mode of income generation and a cornerstone of the institute’s slow move toward self-sufficiency. CNEWA has also provided funding

for educational materials for the school and for hearing aids for students. Despite these specific boons, all three institutions operate their finances on a month-to-month basis, depending heavily on Providence. In the meantime, the core infrastructure — put in place decades ago — is crumbling. Although brick and mortar do not last forever and these centers will indeed require serious investment soon, their collective work has contributed to an ever-expanding space in Lebanese society for the dignity and acceptance of those who were once marginalized and cast out — in particular, the deaf and the mentally ill. For that space to continue to grow and consolidate, these institutions seek out more outside support.


here once deaf babies were kept at home and neglected, now confident youth are able to emerge as active participants in society. Where once the mentally ill were cast out, now they can begin to find a place and contribute through workshops and community engagement. Back in the lobby of the Father Roberts Institute for Deaf Children, Wadad Bou Dagher-Kharrat glances at her watch and cranes her neck. The children are unusually late showing up. The noise emanating from the schoolyard explains why. As it is the last day of the school year, class has been canceled and replaced by a full day of activities. Angie and Karl spent the morning planting seeds at the nearby park, followed by sport and games. Once they returned to the school grounds, traditional Lebanese flatbread sandwiches — called saj, after the frying pan used to make them — awaited them with a choice of water or soda.

Once all the children were seated and nibbling on their sandwiches, bongo drums made an unexpected appearance. The subdued contentment of some 30 hungry children snacking quickly gave way to an impromptu session of dabke dancing in the yard. Even the lunch lady joined in, waving her rolling pin over her head, to the delight of the children. All that activity explains the flush on the twin’s cheeks when they finally burst through the lobby double doors to join their waiting mother. “Here at the school, they’ve taught our kids how to assert themselves,” q A patient chats with staff at Our Lady’s Hospital.

says Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat. “They know how to manage their lives, how to take initiative. They don’t feel different. They are not trapped by their difference.” Karl wants to be a football player when he grows up. Angie wants to be a dermatologist. But for now, they hug their mom and arch their necks to look up at her as she speaks. Each twin has learned to use a combination of lip reading and deciphering the sound they receive from their cochlear implants to understand what their mom says as she speaks. “It’s summertime!” she announces with a large grin. The twins cheer and the family makes its way to the car — and to

two whole months of school-free summer. A regular contributor to ONE, Don Duncan has covered the Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times and Agence France Presse.


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Accompanying the Church

Syrian Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Jesus the King Chaldean Catholic Church in Hassake, in late May.

A letter from Syria by Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas




The Rev. Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas is a priest of the Chaldean Church. For the past 16 years he has been patriarchal vicar for northeastern Syria. Since the rise of ISIS and other extremist groups fighting in Syria’s civil war, Christians there have been hunted down because of their faith. During a brief visit to Beirut, Father Thomas shared his thoughts on his ministry and the challenges facing his community.

he situation in Syria has been deeply troubling. The main challenge I have faced during the last few years has been to bring hope to my community, especially after ISIS attacked the Hassake governorate and the Assyro-Chaldean villages along the Khabur River. Churches and houses were burned or destroyed and more than 150 people were kidnapped. We helped the displaced families, providing shelter, food and medical assistance. All this has been happening to a church and a people with a long and rich history in this region. Christians are the salt of Syria — and its light. I am a Catholic priest of the Chaldean Church, which is one of the 23 Catholic Eastern churches in full communion with the bishop of Rome. One of the oldest Christian communities in the world, the Chaldean Church is led by Patriarch Louis Raphael I in Baghdad. Our Christian faith has given so much life in the Middle East — we belong here — but our communities are being destroyed in Iraq, Syria and the other countries impacted by the fall out of the “Arab Spring.” Christians are leaving; we cannot prevent families from emigrating. They have the freedom to choose between staying and leaving, as they want only a decent life. But how can you be a good shepherd for a parish whose members were forced from their homes, their land, and their livelihoods? I have vowed to stay with my parish and those displaced from other areas. I have struggled. However, with the support of the

patriarch and my bishop, Antoine Audo, S.J., of Aleppo, who has helped provide material, medical and humanitarian support, we are helping to provide, as much as possible, the basic needs for the displaced Christian families remaining in our part of Syria. Beyond those necessities of food, health care and shelter, our presence as priests and religious helps give hope to the people of God, where it is lacking. As shepherds — men and women who have left everything and followed Christ — our faith and trust in Christ binds us to the people. We have reopened education centers and provided recreational and pastoral activities for children in the summer. We are still here. Jesus Christ remains our inspiration. We are strengthened by his grace. Despite the circumstances, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, honor the Virgin Mary and pray to Christ, asking for peace from the King of Peace. As a priest, I have given my life to serve the Lord and his people. Some have become martyrs in order to free their homeland. Yet, we continue to live in hope. As Jesus Christ said: “Take courage, I have overcome the world.” We live in hope that the West will learn that Syria doesn’t need weapons and alms. Syrians are just in need of honest intentions from all key countries, so we can find a way to peace.


ut we also live in fear. The Kurds, who are in the majority in northeastern Syria, have formed a new authority



parallel to the central government in Damascus. The Kurds are hoping to achieve independence and have taken control of the oil wells, made military service mandatory, imposed taxes on the citizens and have introduced Kurdish in the schools. Our fear is that after ISIS is cut down, the central government will try to limit the Kurds’ control and a new conflict will erupt and eventually push our youth to emigrate. It’s worth mentioning here the hard situation so many are facing. Consider health care, for example. Public and private hospitals are not fit to receive patients, which affects their health — especially patients with chronic cases. Because of a lack of medication paired with the emigration of 80 percent of the country’s doctors and nurses,

agriculture activity is still ongoing, so some people can find a way to survive. In the meantime, we cope. From the start of the attacks on our region, we have daily liturgies with the children of the parish, and afterward we gather to talk about our fears and concerns. The children are encouraged to participate in the Divine Liturgy and to get involved in catechetical and pastoral activities so they grow in the grace of Jesus, develop a prayer life and make their faith a part of their lives. So how can I be a good shepherd? I spend time with every single person who belongs to the parish. I want to know what is happening in their lives. I help them to focus on their faith, their Christianity. And I try to stay connected with people,

“We continue to live in hope. As Jesus Christ said, ‘Take courage. I have overcome the world.’ ” neither the government nor the Kurdish authorities can meet the needs of the citizens. Daily life is difficult because of the expensive living conditions. Unemployment is a huge problem. It is hard to meet even the most basic needs, especially as the price of sugar, rice or any other basic food keeps rising. People, who can barely afford to live as it is, are forced to pay bribes at checkpoints. The average salary ranges between $70 and $100 per month. There is also very little electricity, so people have to use a portable generator, which contaminates and pollutes. Agricultural production has decreased by 70 percent in the region, because ISIS burned and destroyed much of the most fertile land. About 30 percent of the



even those who have left the country — we have a Facebook page for the Chaldean community from Hassake. Social media helps our people — especially those now scattered worldwide — know what is happening with their parish and their families, and updates them on new activities in the area. Our faith always calls for peace, but politics and bad politicians are always setting fires and disturbing the situation. I try to stay away from political discussions. My mission is to take care of my parish, to help my parishioners and to try and enrich the parish with fruitful spiritual activities. While Syria’s many Christian communities face many and varied challenges right now, there is only one thing we all truly need: peace.

Young children enjoy an art class, part of a church-run summer camp program in Hassake.

Help Syria’s Christians survive the storm Please help today




Responding to Human Needs

Hard Choices Iraq's Christians face homes in ruin — and a future in doubt by Raed Rafei




n a bright classroom, a dozen spirited teenagers, in groups of two or three, pore over Arabic copies of the Bible. The unadorned, freshly painted walls hint that the room has not seen use for a while. “Who knows what Urshalim means?” asks a sister, using the name for Jerusalem preferred by Arabic-speaking Christians, as she circles around her students reading from the Acts of the Apostles. A short moment of silence follows, interrupted by an eager young voice: “The land of peace!” It might seem like a normal scorching-hot day at Immaculate Conception School in Qaraqosh, once a thriving Christian city in northern Iraq. But the hustle and bustle of cheerful children playing in the courtyard of this summer catechetical program strongly contrasts with the ghostly silence outside. The scenes around town speak volumes. Large piles of rubble lie interwoven with twisted iron along rough roads. Long, empty streets

showcase buildings collapsed or scorched, and church towers brought to ruin. In October 2016, after more than two years of occupation by ISIS, Qaraqosh and other predominantly Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain of northern Iraq were liberated by a large military campaign led by the Iraqi military, Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite militias, with support from international forces. Over the ensuing months, however, displaced Iraqi Christians have been hesitant to return home, citing uncertainty about reconstruction, political instability, security concerns and general anxieties over their forced exodus from their homeland. But in this town that has stood for thousands of years — it was once called Baghdeda in ancient Syriac — and which only three years ago boasted large entertainment centers, wedding halls and numerous shopping areas, signs of life are slowly and gradually emerging.

“It’s like a flower becoming bigger and bigger every day,” says the Rev. Georges Jahola of the Syriac Catholic Church, who has been heading the church’s efforts for the reconstruction of Qaraqosh in the absence of an effective governmental plan. “In the beginning people were afraid to return,” he says optimistically, “but the situation is changing. One family brings another.” Iraq’s largest Christian city, Qaraqosh served as a commercial hub for the entire region of the Nineveh Plain. Since the landmines were cleared and the area was declared safe in April, some 500 families have returned — a fraction of the pre-war population of 50,000. Yet the simple fact that they are here tells a story of resilience, determination and faith. Sister Luma Khudher reflects near the stoup of the damaged Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah in Qaraqosh.




n a once-bustling commercial neighborhood known simply as Al Souk (Arabic for “market”), locals have begun the mammoth task of clearing away rubble. With a shovel in hand and a black hat, Bahnam Matti, 72, removes detritus from what had been a clothes shop, now desolate with large holes in the ceiling. Every now and then, he pauses to wipe the sweat off his face with a pink towel placed on his shoulder. Across the street, a woman in a bright red and blue dress sprays water from a hose on the entrance of her scorched restaurant. Others paint walls or cut wood panels, undaunted by the scale of destruction — scores of collapsed rooftops, smashed storefronts and hills of accumulated debris. Electricity and running water have returned, albeit sporadically. And the number of small shops purveying basic foodstuffs and household items continues to grow.



“People are asking themselves, ‘What does it mean to be an Iraqi Christian?' ” A local school reports another promising sign: the steady daily arrival of parents asking to register their children in an ongoing program. Dressed in pants dotted with fresh paint, Gilbert Georgis brings his daughters Klarina, 10, and Klarissa, 12, to join the 270 students attending various classes — including art lessons, religious education and other recreational activities designed to help children process the trauma they have experienced. “This is our land. We are not afraid,” says Mr. Georgis. A teacher who currently performs odd jobs around town as a handyman,

he says he carefully planned his family’s return last week with his wife and four children. “It’s better to live in a room here than to be in a house somewhere else,” he says. With their home only sustaining minimal damage, the family preferred to return rather than pay $400 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in Ain Kawa — a suburb of Erbil, in nearby autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, where thousands of Christians have sought refuge since ISIS flushed them from their homes in August 2014. Not everybody is as fortunate as Mr. Georgis. A recent comprehensive survey carried out by church

p Bahnam Matti removes rubble from a former clothing store. t Slewa Shamoon Aba displays a broken crucifix in the garden of his home.

authorities indicates that of the 6,826 housing units in Qaraqosh, about a third are severely damaged or burned, with some two-thirds sustaining partial damage. Almost 100 homes are completely destroyed and beyond repair. Despite some shy rebuilding efforts by churches and homeowners, the estimated $70 million needed for the overall reconstruction of Qaraqosh still looms large. According to Father Jahola, several organizations have pledged to help with large finances, but substantial aid has not materialized yet. The condition of Qaraqosh is not very different from that of most Christian towns in the Nineveh

Plain, which typically report damage to 30 to 40 percent of structures — houses, schools, public institutions, churches, monasteries and hospitals alike. But some towns, such as Batnaya, have been rendered completely uninhabitable, reporting 85 percent of buildings demolished under heavy aerial bombardment. The total cost for the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plain, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars — if not billions — will require a significant mobilization of aid by foreign governments and international charities. In September, local authorities hope more Christian families will leave their temporary makeshift housing in trailer camps in the Kurdish area and return to Qaraqosh and other Christian towns, continuing or even accelerating the area’s restoration. Yet maintaining this momentum will depend in

part upon a decision by the Iraqi central government to resume administration of schools and other public services in Nineveh. Such a decision, it is believed, would also speed the restoration of other vital infrastructure. But for the time being, residents tend to what they can — the physical condition of the towns, and the morale of the community.


ister Luma Khudher stumbles over blocks of stone to enter the courtyard of the convent she and other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena once called home. An image of the Virgin Mary on the wall surrounded by torn pages from religious books, tattered cloths and entwined metal rods from broken desks attests to the former life of this place. “Growing up, it was natural to be a Christian,” says Sister Luma, reminiscing about the 80’s, when Iraqi Christians were well integrated



The CNEWA Connection

Since the earliest days of the 2014 displacement of Iraqi Christians, CNEWA has been in constant contact with the local churches, standing in solidarity with those who are suffering and accompanying them as they seek to rebuild their lives. The impact has been dramatic. Through our key partners in the region, the bishops, priests, sisters and lay leaders of the Chaldean and Syriac churches, CNEWA has provided material support — milk, clothing, food — along with spiritual assistance, through education, catechesis and activities to help children cope with their new surroundings. Additionally, we have worked to set up emergency programs for displaced families — most of whom have lost everything. With our partners on the ground, we have provided winter and summer kits and launched mobile clinics to attend to ongoing health needs. Looking to the future, CNEWA is developing new programs to sustain the Iraqi people. We are planning vocational training courses to help young people develop necessary skills; we are also working to help those who have lost businesses attain grants so that they can begin again. Additionally, our planned literacy and foreign language courses will help those who have been internally displaced find a job or adapt to their new circumstances. To learn how you can support this vital work, call: 1-800-442-6392 (United States) or 1-866-322-4441 (Canada).



and constituted an educated, leading section of Iraqi society. “Now, people are asking themselves: ‘Why is this happening to us?’ ‘What does it mean to be an Iraqi Christian?’ ” These existential questions echo through the graffiti-covered walls of the convent. On one, the name of Al Qaeda’s slain leader, Osama Bin Laden, is sprayed above a rendering of the Shahada, Islam’s profession of faith. Broken crosses, smashed statues and hateful language scribbled on the walls of churches offer no comfort to those pondering the position of Christians in Iraq. Yet, when inhabitants first returned to their liberated villages and saw the burned and desecrated churches where, for generations, they celebrated liturgies, weddings and funerals, their first reaction was to look for church bells, prop them up and start ringing them again. “ISIS might have been defeated,” says Slewa Shamoon Aba, 76, a retired teacher and artist, “but the pervasive extremist mentality is still there.” That concern, he adds, “cannot be erased.” Mr. Aba, who spent his life collecting traditional looms, radios, costumes and other memorabilia in the basement of his home, says he was deeply disappointed with his Muslim compatriots. Returning to his garden, he had found his mannequins — once dressed in colorful traditional clothes he had made — in pieces. A crucifix in a Christmas grotto he had built was likewise broken. z A mobile clinic’s physician fills prescriptions for displaced families while visiting the village of Sharafiya. { The Rev. Georges Jahola, a native of Qaraqosh, leads church efforts to rebuild the city. u A Dominican sister visits the Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah.

“This is our land. We are not afraid.”



Mr. Aba says he had taught generations of Muslims in Mosul and in other neighboring villages. “It pains me to see them radicalized,” he says. Many Iraqi Christians believe their Muslim neighbors, people who once shopped at their stores and shared their food, looted their homes after the invasion. Some say the occupiers branded Qaraqosh a “mall,” inviting Muslims to take furniture and electronic items freely from deserted Christian homes. Today, many Christians refuse to go back to towns with mixed religious populations, such as Tel Kaif, for fear for their safety. The same holds for Christians’ return to large, once-diverse urban centers, especially the city of Mosul. Property destruction has proven less discouraging than a sense of violated trust, and doubts linger about once more coexisting with their Sunni neighbors.

The very people who drove them from their homes, some worry, could have shaved their beards and dissolved into the civilian population. In 2003, Iraq was home to an estimated 1.5 million Christians. Today, 14 years since the United States invaded Iraq, only around 250,000 remain as a result of waves of kidnappings, targeted killings and the 2014 ISIS invasion. Some managed to immigrate to Western countries such as Australia, the United States and various nations in Europe. But a great many remain in limbo in Jordan and Lebanon, waiting to either leave or return. There are no signs that Iraqis abroad would return any time soon to what everybody believes is the “big unknown.” “Unless Christians are allowed to govern their region under international protection, they won’t feel safe,” says the Rev. Behnam Benoka, a Syriac Catholic priest who has worked with CNEWA

and its partners to provide health care to displaced Iraqis in Iraqi Kurdistan.


ecurity for Christians in Iraq remains a thorny issue. Units of Christian militias staff checkpoints around Christian towns, but they lack proper training and arms, and ultimately defer to the authority of the Iraqi army, various Shiite militias or Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The growing tension between Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi central government places Christians between a rock and a hard place. People fear a controversial referendum for the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan might make the teetering situation explode. Today, the Nineveh Plain region is divided into two zones — Returning residents of Tel Eskof sign up to receive aid packages through the local authorities.

one under the control of the Kurds and the other, where Qaraqosh lies, under the control of the Iraqi government. In the Kurdish-held area, about 20 miles north of Mosul lies Tel Eskof, one of the major AssyroChaldean towns gradually returning to life. According to its mayor, a third of the original 1,500 families of Tel Eskof are back, in addition to several hundred families who lost their homes in neighboring towns. In the main shopping district, men gather around the back of a pickup truck filled with watermelons. They haggle with the seller, patting the fruit to pick the best ones. Nearby, signs on a freshly painted store proudly advertise alcoholic beverages. Across the street, a shop repairs bicycles for children eager to reclaim the streets as their playground. In the coffee shops, men smoke water pipes and play cards. Further down the road, a long line of women and men of all ages queue outside a community center to receive aid packages from local authorities. Each family receives basic groceries such as rice, sugar and oil, as well as blankets and a fan. Years of displacement from home, livelihood and savings have left many families impoverished. A poor economy has led to a heavy reliance on government jobs, where the monthly pay has significantly decreased in the past few years. These factors combined make it difficult to restart life. For those who have been displaced multiple times, even the prospect of rebuilding can only elicit a half-hearted, guarded enthusiasm. “A home is nothing without its people,” says Leila Aziz, a feisty 40-something chemistry teacher and mother of four. Most of Mrs. Aziz’s family has left Iraq. Her home in nearby Batnaya, which remains totally deserted, has

Offer Iraq’s families a safe haven Please help today

been “totally flattened.” Having lost everything, she moved with her husband and two of her children to Tel Eskof to live in the house of relatives who left for Australia. To bring joy into their new, unfamiliar home, Mrs. Aziz bought her youngest son, 12-year-old Angel, a small, friendly dog named Tita. But she says the pain of her dispersed family is difficult to heal. Her two eldest sons left college for Lebanon, where they work in lowwage jobs while waiting to be resettled by the United Nations in a Western country. “The new generation wants to see life,” she says. “They want to go to the cinema, to go out, to feel simply normal.” Not everybody wants to leave. Ayman Ramzi Gharib, a slim, cheerful 22-year-old driver, traveled to Jordan earlier in July as the first step to join the rest of his family in Australia. But after a couple of weeks, he returned. “I can’t imagine my life away from home,” he says as he opens the door to his damaged family home. Mr. Gharib married last year while displaced to nearby Al Qosh — the only Christian enclave that avoided ISIS occupation. Now, he has a

newborn daughter, Orvelia, and temporarily shares an apartment with his brother while he finishes repairing their house. Past the kitchen of the bare house, the sun filters through a hole in the ceiling. Mr. Gharib stares at a reproduction on the wall of Christ and the Virgin Mary, with rays of light emanating from their hearts. “I was born and raised here. This is all I know in life.” Raed Rafei is a Beirut-based journalist and independent filmmaker whose writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Forbes Arabia and the Daily Star of Lebanon. FOR MORE ON IRAQI CHRISTIANS RETURNING HOME, VISIT OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:


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on the world of CNEWA


s president of CNEWA, I travel a lot and I am often asked two questions: “Will there ever be peace in the Middle East?” and “Are all the efforts and good works of the church making a difference there?” Allow me to share some personal reflections with you that bring these two questions into focus. First of all, peace is a very relative term and some might suggest “perfect” peace can never be, since the lack of peace or imperfect peace is a reflection of our fallen state. True peace, then, would only occur at the end of time, when we



are called to be in the full presence of our God. But peace in the Middle East is certainly possible and the church forcefully proclaims this and works to bring it to reality. Through our call to follow Christ, we accept his mandate to live the Gospel and to perform works of charity and mercy. This is at the heart of our Catholic presence in the Middle East. Our brothers and sisters who profess Christ and live out his Gospel in this area of the world are heralds of peace and love, where darkness and despair have become

p Monsignor Kozar visits with patients at the Martha Schmouny Clinic in Erbil, Iraq, in April 2016. u A displaced child, pictured in March 2017, walks through a refugee camp in Zahleh, Lebanon.

the norm. Even though their numbers continue to dwindle, their presence is powerful and must endure. This is where CNEWA comes into the picture. We are privileged to accompany the Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East. In doing so we sustain the faith life of Continued next page



focus on the world of CNEWA

those committed to Jesus in the midst of war, suffering, poverty, oppression and even persecution and martyrdom. What a humbling experience for me during my many pastoral visits in the Middle East, when I see firsthand the courageous acts of love and mercy carried out by a dwindling family of Christians — those who are victimized, those who are hungry, those who suffer — for all, Christian or not. Their faith in our Lord is overpowering. Whatever we can do to assist them pales in comparison to their sacrifices. We are honored to accompany them. Do the good works of the church make a difference and bring us closer to peace in the Middle East?



Absolutely and positively. It does not matter how many Christians remain, because Christ is present in each one of them. They share Christ with all, including those of different faith traditions and even with the oppressor and the persecutor. You should feel very proud as a supporter in prayer and with your financial gifts to Catholic Near East Welfare Association. You help to keep the flame of faith alive in the Middle East — which ultimately helps to share Christ, who is the Prince of Peace, with all peoples of that part of the world. I remember one visit to that region, and meeting a woman who had become a Catholic and was marked for death by her family. She wanted to share this with me: “My God,

p Churches work to meet the needs of displaced families in Ain Kawa, near Erbil. u Good Shepherd Sisters serve refugees in Deir el Ahmar, Lebanon.

Jesus,” she said, “is a God of love and peace.” What a beautiful profession of faith. Yes, there can be peace, and there will be peace in the Middle East. May God bless you and may he bless all our family in the Middle East.

Msgr. John E. Kozar

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ONE Magazine September 2017  

Official publication of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)