August 28, 2014 // Uncategorized

Middle East patriarchs meet diplomats, call for wiping out terrorists

By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs of the Middle East denounced attacks on Christians and called upon the international community to work toward eradicating terrorist groups.

The patriarchs met Aug. 27 at the Maronite Catholic patriarchate at Bkerke, north of Beirut, for a special summit to address the crisis in the region. They were later joined by the United Nations’ special coordinator in Lebanon and the ambassadors of the five permanent member-countries of the U.N. Security Council.

“The very existence of Christians is at stake in several Arab countries — notably in Iraq, Syria and Egypt — where they have been exposed to heinous crimes, forcing them to flee,” the patriarchs said in a statement after the summit and meeting with diplomats.

They lamented the indifference of both Islamic authorities and the international community over attacks against Christians, who have been in the region for 2,000 years.

“What is painful is the absence of a stance by Islamic authorities, and the international community has not adopted a strict stance either,” the patriarchs said.

“We call for issuing a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) that forbids attacks against others,” they said.

“The international community cannot keep silent about the existence of the so-called ISIS,” the patriarchs said, referring to the Islamic State. “They should put an end to all extremist terrorist groups and criminalize aggression against Christians and their properties.”

The prelates’ meeting was a follow-up to their first summit Aug. 7. It also follows a trip by several of them to Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region, to give moral and spiritual support to the flood of Iraqi minorities driven from the Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State militants.

The prelates stressed the need for cutting off the sources of terrorism and called on the world’s major powers to deprive extremist groups of resources by compelling countries financing them to stop their support.

Solutions to the Islamic State crisis must involve “dealing with the reasons that produced the miseries in the Middle East,” and harmony must be restored between the components of these countries, they said.

“The international community must act and eradicate” the Islamic State, the patriarchs said. “This is required from the United Nations and the U.N. Security Council.”

“We must stop using extremists, terrorists and mercenaries and (stop) supporting, financing and arming them,” they said.

They also stressed “the necessity of working to liberate the towns of Ninevah and facilitate the return of the displaced to their homes, in addition to ensuring the security of these towns with local and international guarantees to prevent displacement.”

The patriarchs denounced the “bleeding” that continues in Syria and said the conflict there must be solved by “dialogue and through a political solution.” They criticized the international community for not resolving the April 2013 kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops in Syria.

The prelates applauded the region’s Christians, who “are committed to the values of the Gospel and the teachings of Christ” exemplified in their relationships with others, “including their Muslim brothers, who live with them in the same nations.”

As for the threat of the Islamic State in Lebanon, particularly in light of the Islamic militants’ incursion into the country near its border with Syria early August, the prelates underscored “the importance of the Lebanese political system that separates between the religion and the state, and which acknowledges religious freedoms.”

“We reject religious extremism in Lebanon. Lebanon is a country for all and not a country where there are different religious emirates,” they said.

About 33 percent of Lebanon’s existing population of 4 million is Christian, with the majority Maronite Catholics. But that demographic has changed, with the flood of refugees from neighboring Syria, mostly Muslim, now equal to more than one-quarter of Lebanon’s population.

Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Catholic, but that post has been vacant since the term of former Lebanese President Michel Suleiman ended May 25. Rival political blocs are still divided over a new leader.

The patriarchs addressed the impasse, urging “all political blocs to isolate the presidential elections from regional and international conflicts and to reach an accord regarding the election of a president as soon as possible.”

The summit, presided by Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch was attended by: Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II; Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni; Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan; Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako; a representative of the Greek Orthodox Church; and the head of the Evangelical Council, Rev. Salim Sahyouni.

They were later joined by the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia; Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin; U.S. Ambassador David Hale; British Ambassador Tom Fletcher; Derek Plumbly, personal representative of the U.N. secretary-general in Lebanon; Jerome Kochar, charge d’affaires of the French Embassy; and Han Jing, charge d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy.

On Aug. 28, Cardinal Rai left for the Vatican, where he was to meet with Pope Francis to discuss the crisis in Iraq and the region as well as Lebanon’s presidential impasse.

A group of the patriarchs, along with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, are scheduled to participate in the Sept. 9-11 In Defense of Christians Inaugural Summit for Middle East Christians in Washington. As part of that visit, the prelates also plan to meet with members of Congress and White House officials.

Catholic aid agencies seek funds to assist minorities in Iraq, Syria

By Beth Griffin

Members of the Yezidi religious minority who fled from violence in Mosul, Iraq, receive humanitarian aid Aug. 21 in Dohuk province, in the northern part of the country. Catholic relief agencies are trying raise more money for additional aid in the region. (CNS photo/EPA)

RYE, N.Y. (CNS) — Catholic organizations in the United States have launched public appeals to fund assistance to Christians and other religious minorities displaced in Iraq and Syria.

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Jesuit Relief Service, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services and Aid to the Church in Need are among Catholic agencies seeking funds.

Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, has pledged an initial $1 million, of which $458,000 has already been given. Edward Clancy, ACN’s director of outreach, said funds are being directed to local bishops in Syria and Iraq.

Clancy said Aid to the Church in Need has funded pastoral assistance to the church communities in Syria and Iraq “for decades,” including Mass stipends and vocation support. Because of the urgency of the current situation, it is now giving money for food and tents for the displaced.

He said he was confident individual donors would meet and exceed the $1 million already pledged. The charity is accepting donations at

Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a charitable organization mandated by the Holy See to work for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches, launched an appeal July 28 for aid to Iraq. It released an initial grant of $75,000 to purchase infant formula, diaper and handicapped-accessible toilets and showers for camps for displaced Iraqis.

Michael LaCivita, CNEWA communications director, said the agency works with local partners, including Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Dominican Sisters of the Presentation, the Syriac Catholic archbishop, the Syriac Orthodox archbishop and the Chaldean Catholic archbishop.

“They have put together an emergency response team and we are working with them,” said LaCivita, noting that the agency has been active in Iraq for more than 50 years.

In Syria, CNEWA supported pastoral programs and long-term human development until the current civil war. LaCivita said CNEWA is working in partnership with religious orders of men and women to provide emergency aid to internally displaced Syrians and those who fled to Jordan and Lebanon.

He said the agency hopes to raise $500,000 for the Iraq and Syria effort from Catholics in the United States. The agency is accepting donations at

Jesuit Refugee Service teams in Syria won the 2014 Pax Christi International Peace Award for their work. The agency helps more than 300,000 people in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo with educational and psychosocial activities; food and rent; and basic health care.

The agency has issued an urgent appeal for its work in Syria and is seeking donations at

The Knights of Columbus Catholic fraternal organization committed $1 million Aug. 12 for humanitarian aid in Iraq. This includes an initial $500,000 and a pledge to match $500,000 in donations from the public.

Andrew Walther, vice president for media, research and development for the Knights of Columbus, said the group works with local Catholic church entities, “and with Vatican and other major charities operating on the ground in the region to which we are sending aid.” He said the organization also has provided charitable outreach in Iraq through individual Knights who served in the U. S. military there.

Walther said the Knights’ appeal to members and individuals has raised almost $2 million. The organization is accepting donations at

Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas relief and development organization of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, committed an initial $1 million for Iraq. Money is being used to provide food, water, essential living supplies, psychological support, education for displaced children and preparation for longer-term resettlement.

Liz O’Neill, CRS communications officer, said the agency has six staff in Iraq and works in partnership with Caritas Iraq, diocesan bishops and priests. Efforts are concentrated in northern Iraq.

She said CRS has collaborated with local partners in Iraq since 1992 and withdrew its foreign personnel in 2004 because of the deteriorating security situation. CRS helps displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees in Iraq.

O’Neill also said the agency would need $4 million to fulfill humanitarian needs in Iraq over the next several months. CRS is accepting donations at

On Aug. 19, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked bishops throughout the country to hold a special collection in September to support the humanitarian and pastoral needs of Christians and other victims of violence in the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria and Gaza. Funds will be sent to the USCCB Office of National Collections for use by Catholic Relief Services and other Catholic agencies working in partnership with the local church.

Archbishop Kurtz said the collection would be used to support church programs, to aid persecuted Christians and “to respond to rebuilding needs of Catholic dioceses in the impacted areas.”

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