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Gaza parish staff and children had nowhere to go when told to evacuate

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — When the staff at the lone Catholic parish in the Gaza Strip received text warnings to evacuate the premises, they had nowhere to go.

Father Raed Abusahlia, president of Caritas Jerusalem who has been in contact with the parish priest, told Catholic News Service that Father Jorge Hernandez of the Institute of the Incarnate Word and three nuns who live at the parish had nowhere to evacuate the 29 severely disabled children and nine elderly women in their care.

Smoke rises from Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike July 29. Violence escalated the previous night after an attempted unofficial truce for the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday crumbled. (CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA)

Smoke rises from Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike July 29. Violence escalated the previous night after an attempted unofficial truce for the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday crumbled. (CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA)

Since Israel launched airstrikes against Gaza July 8, it has sent text messages to citizens to evacuate if they will be near a target. Israel bombed near Holy Family Catholic Church the morning of July 30.

The Vatican’s Fides news agency, citing details from Father Hernandez, said the main target of the bombing was a home a few meters away from the parish. The home was completely destroyed, and the parish school, office and some rooms used by the parish were partially destroyed.

Father Abusahlia told CNS all the windows of the whole compound, as well as that of the Greek Orthodox Church, already were shattered from previous bombings of buildings around them.

“They are in a very difficult situation,” said Father Abusahlia. “It is a very dangerous area.”

He said the number of refugees at the parish school, some distance away from the parish compound, increased from 600 people to 1,400 in the week ending July 30, and the number of refugees sheltered by the Greek Orthodox Church had increased from 1,400 to 1,900.

Caritas has been providing them with powdered milk, diapers and gasoline, which is especially important after the attack on the Gaza electrical plant. They rely on generators, Father Abusahlia said, and the gas to run them is very difficult and expensive to obtain.

Fides quoted Father Hernandez as saying: “We had a tough night, but we are here. This war is absurd.

“Everything happens around us,” he said. “The Hamas militants continue to fire rockets and then hide in the alleys. And we cannot do anything. We cannot evacuate, it is impossible with children. Their families live here. It is more dangerous to go out than stay here. We try to stay in safer places, always on the ground floor.”

 

Pope will visit Philippines, Sri Lanka in January

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MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle confirmed July 29 that Pope Francis will visit Jan. 15-19, after spending several days in Sri Lanka.

Church and government officials did not give details of the visit, saying instead that specifics would be released before the end of the year. The pope is expected to visit Manila and the Visayas, in the central Philippines.

Late last year, major disasters struck numerous island provinces in the Visayas.

On Oct. 15, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Bohol province, killing more than 200 people and causing major destruction in surrounding islands. Less than a month later, Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central part of the country, killing 6,300 people.

The typhoon’s 215 mile-per-hour winds kicked up a 15-foot storm surge in the coastal city of Tacloban in Leyte province. The tsunami-like wave also swept people away in nearby Palo and Tanauan, where local churches lost hundreds of parishioners.

In early July, Vatican officials visited Tacloban and surrounding areas in preparation for the pope’s visit, the cardinal said.

Cardinal Tagle, who heads the committee planning the papal visit, announced the theme of the visit would be “Mercy and Compassion.”

The dates of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines coincide with the dates that the country hosted World Youth Day and St. John Paul II in 1995.

Church officials have said this is only the second time a pope will visit locations outside Manila.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, and Paquito Ochoa Jr., the Philippine president’s executive secretary, are also on the central committee for the visit.

The Vatican press office also announced the dates for the Philippines and said Pope Francis would visit Sri Lanka Jan. 12-15. It released no details of the visits.

 

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Agency seeks donations to aid Iraqi Christian refugees

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NEW YORK — A U.S.-based international Catholic agency July 28 issued a plea for emergency funds to help tens of thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

“These Christian families have arrived with only their clothes, having been forced to leave everything behind in Mosul,” said Ra’ed Bahou, who is the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. As families were “fleeing the city on foot,” he said, “ISIS militants then stole whatever dollars they had in their pockets, even their passports and identification papers.”

Bahou made the comments in a news release from CNEWA announcing the agency has launched a campaign to rush funds to the families.

Islamic militants known as ISIS, or the Islamic State fighters, have solidified their control over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul by imposing Shariah, Islamic law, and are ordering Christians to convert or pay a special tax or they will die.

Mosul’s Christians have instead fled to the Christian villages of Ninevah province, some just a few miles from Mosul, or to the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.

An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Jordan, Beirut and Jerusalem. It has been active in Iraq for more than 50 years, but redoubled its efforts among the vulnerable Christian population in 1991.

Donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org, by phone at (800) 442-6392, or by mail to CNEWA, 1011 First Ave., New York, NY 10022-4195. The agency is a religious charity registered in the state of New York, so all contributions are tax deductible.

According to Bahou, Christian families have found refuge in churches, convents and monasteries, he added.

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, themselves homeless, the clergy, religious and villagers are trying to provide the basics, said the CNEWA release. It said refuge, especially in the villages of Alqosh, Bakhdida (Qaraqosh), Bartella and Tel Kaif, is “tenuous at best,” because the Islamic State has cut the electricity and water supply, and has announced its intentions to overrun the region.

“These villages are in the hands of God,” Bahou said, “as ISIS says their next ‘gift’ will be the villages of the Ninevah Plain.”

Msgr. John E. Kozar, who is president of CNEWA, said the agency will get the emergency funds to the bishops, clergy and religious, “who in the frenzy are courageously providing water, food, mattresses and medicines” to fleeing Christians.

The world is “witnessing, at the hands of extremist thugs, the eradication of a cradle of Christianity in the cradle of civilization,” the priest said in a statement.

He added that the agency will help the “shepherds of this flock to tend their sheep, with the basics they need for survival now … even if their flock is dispersed.”

The BBC reported July 28 that in a joint message, France’s foreign minister and interior minister have offered Iraqi Christians asylum. “We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory,” their statement said.

 

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Working to end the madness, restore dignity in the Middle East

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

 

Catholic Near East Welfare Association works with churches to aid the poor, create dialogue, inspire peace

 

“The situation on the ground [in Gaza] is horrific. The attack on the Shajaia neighborhood yesterday [July 20] was very ugly and left 50 dead (including 17 children, 14 women and 4 senior citizens) as well as 210 wounded and 70,000 displaced. … “Those who visited the neighborhood during the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire yesterday reported bodies of women and children scattered in the narrow streets. …

“The Latin and Greek Orthodox parishes have opened facilities to receive those displaced mostly from Shajaia. There has not been any human loss affecting Christians, and property damage is limited to broken glass and minor damage. Let’s hope it remains this way. The most serious damage to the community is clearly psychological.

“We are continuously assessing the situation and continue to pray for an end to this madness.” Read more »

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German bishops acknowledge shared guilt of churches on WWI anniversary

July 28th, 2014 Posted in International News

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BERLIN — As the world marks the 100th anniversary of World War I, Germany’s Catholic bishops urged efforts to overcome “destructive self-interest” and acknowledged the shared guilt of churches for the conflict, which left 16 million dead.

Bavarian bishops walk in procession to the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers near Bad Staffelstein, Germany, in this 2012 photo. Germany's Catholic bishops have urged efforts to overcome "destructive self-interest" on the 100th anniversary of World War I, while recognizing the shared guilt of churches for the conflict, which left 16 million dead. (CNS photo/Daniel Karmann, EPA)

Bavarian bishops walk in procession to the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers near Bad Staffelstein, Germany, in this 2012 photo. Germany’s Catholic bishops have urged efforts to overcome “destructive self-interest” on the 100th anniversary of World War I, while recognizing the shared guilt of churches for the conflict, which left 16 million dead. (CNS photo/Daniel Karmann, EPA)

“This war began in Europe 100 years ago during these summer months, and its dimensions are still shocking,” the Berlin-based bishops’ conference said.

“As a church, present throughout the world with a redemptive message for all humanity, we must be determined in opposing all inflated nationalism and every attempt to devalue peoples and cultures. Our times demand an effective response in asserting the common interests of the human family against destructive self-interest,” said the bishops’ statement, published July 25.

The bishops said that, before the war began in 1914, national rivalries trumped the close economic ties between countries, unleashing a conflict of “previously unimaginable proportions,” in which poison gas and other weapons of mass destruction were used.

However, it added that Europe’s Christian churches had also played their part in “war-mongering” at the outbreak of fighting.

“Although the Catholic church had distanced itself from 19th-century nationalism by virtue of its universal character, many bishops, priests and faithful took the side of those welcoming the war as a chance for spiritual and moral renewal,” the German bishops said.

“We know today that many people, including those high up in the church, brought guilt upon themselves, failing in the national blindness to perceive the suffering of the war’s victims, and realizing too late the consequences of absolute loyalty to their respective nations.”

The bishops’ conference also published a set of prayers for use at remembrance Masses for World War I, which they described as “a memorial to overpowering guilt and failure, blindness and idolatry.”

World War I lasted from July 28, 1914, when the first shots were fired during an Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, to the signing of an armistice by the defeated Germany Nov. 11, 1918.

Centenary commemorations for the war, in which 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians died and 21 million people were wounded or maimed, are being staged in many European countries. They will include acts of remembrance, exhibitions, educational programs and the refurbishing of war cemeteries and museums.

In their declaration, the German bishops paid tribute to Catholic priests and military chaplains who worked for peace and reconciliation, as well as to Pope Benedict XV, who repeatedly urged the warring parties to negotiate.

They added that the wartime pontiff had been proved right in realizing only “true reconciliation and forgiveness” would secure “a real and lasting peace,” but said it had taken World War II to overcome finally the “system of confrontation.”

“Only with the process of European integration, shaped today by the European Union, which began in a small part of the continent and then grew ever larger, has peace created by law taken precedence over the power of the strong,” the bishops’ conference said.

“Not only can capital and goods now move freely across frontiers, but so also can citizens. Negotiations and the search for compromises have replaced violent confrontation, and a look back at the horrors of this war should be an incentive for us all to continue these efforts.”

The start of centenary commemorations, which will include a meeting of European heads of state at the battlefield of Ypres, Belgium, follows a wave of anti-Semitic riots in Germany, France and other European countries by groups protesting Israeli military operations in Gaza.

In a July 23 interview with Germany’s Catholic news agency, KNA, Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen, who chairs the German church’s Subcommission for Relations with Judaism, urged police and justice officials to “act with determination against hate crimes,” and said Christians should “always take the side” of Jews against insults and attacks.

“It’s part of the basic consensus of our country and Europe that anti-Semitism must be outlawed forever,” the bishop told KNA. “Everyone has a right to express political opinions publicly and criticize the policies of Israel. But no one has a right to mobilize against Jews or any other group of people and act out their inhumane resentments.”

 

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Patriarch decries ‘mass cleansing’ of Mosul Christians

By

Catholic News Service

Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, in Washington to meet with federal government representatives and members of Congress, decried the “mass cleansing” of Christians from Mosul, Iraq, by what he called “a bed of criminals.”

A handout picture made available by the official government Syrian Arab News Agency in May shows Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan walking with a Christian and Muslim delegation during a visit to the old city of Homs, Syria. A prominent Syrian Christian political leader has warned of an impending assault on Syria's northeastern province of Hassake amid reports that thousands of Islamist fighters are preparing to take control of the predominantly Christian and Kurdish area. (CNS photo/EPA)

A handout picture made available by the official government Syrian Arab News Agency in May shows Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan walking with a Christian and Muslim delegation during a visit to the old city of Homs, Syria. A prominent Syrian Christian political leader has warned of an impending assault on Syria’s northeastern province of Hassake amid reports that thousands of Islamist fighters are preparing to take control of the predominantly Christian and Kurdish area. (CNS photo/EPA)

“We wonder how could those criminals, this bed of criminals, cross the border from Syria into Mosul and occupy the whole city of Mosul … imposing on the population their Shariah (law) without any knowledge of the international community,” Patriarch Younan said July 25, referring to Islamic State fighters, formerly known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL.

“What happened is really kind of a cleansing based on religion. You have heard about what they did: proclaim — they announced publicly with street microphones, the ISIS — there’s no more room for Christians in Mosul, that they either have to convert, pay tax, or just leave. And they have been leaving now since then with absolutely nothing,” he added.

“It is a shame that in the 21st century, you have such kind of behavior,” the patriarch lamented. “It’s mass cleansing based on religion, not only for Christians, the Christian minority, but for other minorities,” among them the Yezidi, an ethnic group of 700,000 based in Iraq’s Mesopotamia region.

In Mosul itself, “there is no more Christian presence,” Patriarch Younan said. “It’s tragic because it’s the largest Christian city in Iraq; it was what you call the nucleus of Christian presence for many centuries. And we have at least 25 churches in that city. All are abandoned. No more prayers, no services, no more Masses on Sundays in Mosul because no clergy, no people there that are Christian.” The Islamic State, he said, “took advantage of the Christians who are defenseless in that country, and they have no other means to stay in that country. They have nowhere else to go. They have been taken out with force and injustice.

“Christians used to make at the time of Saddam (Hussein), especially before 1980, about 2.5 percent. That means almost 1.4 million. Now they account for less than 300,000. This is a kind of tragic dwindling of their number,” Patriarch Younan said. “It’s just because of Christian belief and that they are different from the majority,” he added.

Mosul’s Christians have fled to neighboring Kurd-controlled areas.

“The Kurdistan government took care of them, trying to help them,” Patriarch Younan said. “Of course they are still in dire need for assistance for those refugees being forced to leave without any means.”

The patriarch visited them June 27. He said he “urged them to take refuge and go back to their home city” because of Kurd assurances of protection.

Among Patriarch Younan’s appointments in Washington was one with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, who is crafting a bill calling for internationally protected zones for threatened religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.

On a separate front, the patriarch said he has suggested a joint meeting of Eastern Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs to advocate for the region’s vulnerable populations, most of whom are adherents to their respective faiths.

“We have to take our responsibility very seriously together,” Patriarch Younan said. “We are on very good terms, the patriarchs. We are aware of the biggest challenges we are facing or our communities are facing, and we have to go throughout the world and bring the voice of our people to those who have a word to say on the international scene, whether the United Nations, United States, European Union, Russia, China, the Vatican” — and even top Sunni leaders in Egypt and Shiite leaders in Iran.

“We have to tell them that we have been here for millennia. We don’t have any ambition to fight any people, any community, or have ambition to govern or to make coup d’etat, but we have the right to live peacefully in the land of our forefathers as we did for the past 2,000 years,” Patriarch Younan said.

Patriarch Younan, who was born in Syria, said that while Saddam and Syrian President Bashar Assad have been vilified by the West, one thing they did well was to protect religious minorities.

The patriarch recalled appearing on a French prime-time news program where the host asked him: “You know you have a president, an awful president. He’s a monster. He’s killing innocent people, kids, and women.”

Patriarch Younan said he replied with the story of a Capuchin priest from a Syrian town on the Euphrates River that is 98 percent Sunni; it was coming under attack by anti-government rebels.

“I was the last one to leave,” the Capuchin told the patriarch. “I had a parish church, and I have with me in the parish center four nuns of Mother Teresa of Calcutta taking care of about 20 elderly women. And we could not anymore stand that situation. So the nuns called Damascus. And Damascus sent military vehicles to evacuate us from the parish compound, the nuns, 12 elderly people and myself to the airport, and they took us to Damascus.”

“Now,” Patriarch Younan told the French news-show host, “you can judge if that guy is a monster or not.”

 

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Expulsion of Christians a ‘crime against humanity,’ Mosul bishop says

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atholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Backed up by death threats and property seizures, the expulsion of the entire Christian community from Mosul is “a crime against humanity,” said an archbishop from Mosul.

Chaldean Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona said the Islamic State, which took control of Iraq’s second-largest city in early June, is carrying out “religious cleansing.”

“It’s an ugly word, but it is what happened and is happening,” he told Vatican Radio July 22.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis  Sako of Baghdad speaks during a July 22 news conference in Irbil, Iraq. He said the future of Christians in Iraq was uncertain because of the recent violence. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad speaks during a July 22 news conference in Irbil, Iraq. He said the future of Christians in Iraq was uncertain because of the recent violence. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Iraq’s Christian leaders are tired of people making appeals and declarations about their plight without backing up their words with real action, the archbishop said.

“Words do nothing today,” he said.

Support and prayers are needed, he said, but “we also expect all Christians to show solidarity with concrete action” and “without being afraid to talk about this tragedy.”

Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad said: “We need action first. The world is not bothering with what is happening to Christians in Mosul.”

The world’s leaders, including those of the United States, must live up to stated commitment to promoting what is good, he told Catholic News Service by telephone July 23.

“They must do something, because they can,” he said.

The international community must help those being displaced, not because they are Christians, but because they are human beings, he said. Because it overthrew Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the United States in particular must be asked: “Where are the human rights? Where is the democracy?” he said.

Bishop Warduni called for a complete end to selling weapons to Islamic State fighters.

“There are no words to describe them,” he said. “They have no conscience, no religion. Even though they talk about God, they don’t know God,” he said of the militant group that has declared a caliphate, a state governed by a religious leader.

The militants forced thousands of Christians from their homes, seizing their property and then robbed them of their belongings at checkpoints as they fled the city.

Bishop Warduni said, “They take everything, even a wedding ring from a widow, medicine from the hands of a small child, they just (pour) it on the ground.”

The militants confiscated the cars people were fleeing in, he said, forcing the occupants, including “small children, old people, sick people, to walk on foot in 48-degree (118 Fahrenheit) heat.”

Bishop Warduni was one of a number of Iraqi Christian bishops who gathered in Ankawa, a northern town near Irbil, July 21-22 to talk about the crisis unfolding in Mosul with representatives from the United Nations, UNICEF, Caritas and local government leaders.

At the end of the two-day meeting, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako and bishops from the Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Armenian churches called on the Iraqi government to “stop the catastrophe” and guarantee the necessary protection needed for Christians and other minorities being targeted by the fighters.

“A crime is a crime, and it cannot be denied or justified. We expect concrete actions to assure our people, not just press releases of denunciation and condemnation,” the statement said.

The bishops also called on the Iraqi government to provide basic services, housing, schools, aid and financial support to those who have been forced from their homes and livelihoods. They thanked the regional Kurdish government for its hospitality and willingness to protect fleeing families.

Meanwhile, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, representing 57 Muslim countries, condemned the forced displacements in Mosul and called the action “a crime that cannot be tolerated.”

“The practices of the Islamic State have nothing to do with Islam and its principles that call for justice, fairness, freedom of faith and coexistence,” the organization said in a press release July 21.

According to a recent report by the Christian Aid Program, CAPNI, all churches and monasteries in Mosul, numbering around 30 structures, were confiscated and are under the Islamic State’s control.

Crosses were removed from Christian places of worship, which, in many cases, were then looted, burned, destroyed or occupied by the militant group.

Shiite mosques also were demolished and all Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs in the city were destroyed, too, the report said.

Such destruction was endangering many of the nation’s ancient historical, cultural and religious sites, including the tomb of Jonah, which reportedly was broken into in mid-July, the report said.

All non-Sunni communities living in Mosul were being targeted, it said, including Shiite Muslims.

Those who escaped Mosul and found shelter in surrounding villages were still facing hardship, it said, as the Islamic State cut off electric and water supplies to neighboring villages.

There is no drinking water in some areas and the Islamic State was preventing medicine and other hospital supplies from getting past the areas it controls.

The fighters also closed the city’s banks, CAPNI reported, so many people who want to leave Mosul were delaying their departure because they couldn’t access their own bank accounts and they couldn’t find buyers for their homes given the “frozen” housing market, it said.

Most city services have “totally collapsed” and the private sector is “almost paralyzed,” it said.

 

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Catholics at AIDS meeting remember colleagues killed on jet shot down over Ukraine

By

Catholic News Service

MELBOURNE, Australia — Catholics involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS took a few moments July 21 to remember their friends and colleagues who perished in the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Malaysian youths gather in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, July 18 for a candlelight vigil for passengers and crew of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when the plane went down July 17 in eastern Ukraine. (CNS photo/Azhar Rahim, EPA)

Malaysian youths gather in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, July 18 for a candlelight vigil for passengers and crew of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when the plane went down July 17 in eastern Ukraine. (CNS photo/Azhar Rahim, EPA)

At least six AIDS officials were among the 298 people killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. They were headed to the biennial International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, where some 14,000 researchers, activists, caregivers, politicians and people living with HIV gathered July 20-25.

Catholic AIDS workers participated in a memorial Mass July 21 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Melbourne, with Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide as main celebrant.

Archbishop Wilson called the MH17 incident “a terrible tragedy for the people and their families and a shock to the worldwide community of people who have dedicated their lives to fighting HIV and AIDS.”

At the opening of the main AIDS gathering July 20, delegates paused for a moment of silence to remember their colleagues.

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, a special adviser on HIV and AIDS to Caritas Internationalis, called the loss of his colleagues “a difficult shock” to the AIDS community. The plane crash killed at least 28 Australians, among them Sacred Heart Sister Philomene Tiernan, a teacher at the Kincoppal-Rose Bay School in Sydney.

Msgr. Vitillo was in Ukraine a week before coming to the Australia conference to study the response of the Catholic Church there to HIV and AIDS. He said the violence in Ukraine has had other negative effects on the struggle against HIV and AIDS.

“Church workers there are concerned about the many people displaced by the recent fighting who have lost their access to antiretroviral drugs. There are areas where no government is in control, and that means health needs go unmet,” he said.

“The United Nations prefers to call them fragile states, but I call them failed states. We have the same problem today with access to treatment in the Central African Republic. And in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, people are being deprived of their access to both HIV-related drugs as well as children’s vaccines and medicines for tuberculosis. The supplies all have to go through the capital of Sudan, but they don’t get shared with contested areas,” Msgr. Vitillo said.

 

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Caritas official launching appeal for Gaza residents, more than 80,000 displaced

July 18th, 2014 Posted in Featured, International News

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — The head of Caritas in Jerusalem said he would launch an international appeal to help with the Gaza Strip and would not wait until the end of Israeli-Hamas hostilities, as he had done in the past.

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires toward the Gaza Strip July 18. Pope Francis telephoned Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas July 18, urging all sides to end hostilities and build peace. (CNS photo/Nir Elias, Reuters)

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires toward the Gaza Strip July 18. Pope Francis telephoned Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas July 18, urging all sides to end hostilities and build peace. (CNS photo/Nir Elias, Reuters)

Father Raed Abusahlia, general director of Caritas Jerusalem, said July 18 that more than 80,000 Palestinians had been displaced and 1,250 homes have been completely demolished in Israeli airstrikes and the invasion of Gaza in July. He said 80 percent of the Gaza Strip was without electricity and 90 percent of people did not have drinkable water.

“Families are leaving everything behind and they don’t know what they will be coming back to,” he told Catholic News Service. “It is very difficult. There will be a lot of work to do afterward.”

Israeli launched a ground offensive in Gaza July 17, and in an email to Father Abusahlia that night, Amin Sabbagh, Gaza Caritas staff coordinator, wrote: “We are facing heavy attack from the sea, from the air and from land. There are lots of explosions everywhere, and people are afraid. Children are scared and women are crying. The situation is impossible. We pray that the Lord brings his peace upon us.”

“This needs to stop on both sides,” Father Abusahlia said. “We would have liked Hamas to have accepted the (Israeli-proposed) cease-fire,” but Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, also wants “the lifting of the blockade and an opening of the crossings from both Israel and Egypt.”

“They don’t want just a cease-fire,” the priest said. Referring to the seven-year Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip, he added, “1.7 million people in Gaza should not remain in the biggest prison.”

The priest said Gazans need hospital supplies. He said Caritas medical staff had been volunteering at local hospitals as well as helping where they could from their homes with the use of first aid kits distributed by Caritas after the fighting in 2012.

Despite calls by Hamas not to leave their homes, thousands of people in 14 targeted quarters heeded Israeli warnings and evacuated and were being sheltered in U.N. school buildings. Some Palestinians remained in their homes, fearing theft in tough economic times.

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem said the school at Holy Family Parish in Gaza had been opened to those fleeing their homes.

Bishop Shomali urged Palestinian and Israeli political leaders to accept Pope Francis’ call for an immediate cease-fire.

“Many innocent people have been killed. The human pride is terrible, and the result is the loss of innocent people,” Bishop Shomali said. “We need an immediate cease-fire both on southern Israel and in Gaza. People are afraid, tired, they don’t sleep.”

In Jerusalem, Matthew McGarry, country representative for Catholic Relief Services, told CNS he was in regular contact with staff in Gaza. He said they told him that although militants had been launching missiles in Israel from civilian areas, many people have also been killed by Israeli airstrikes in areas where there are no launch sites.

A young CRS intern and her family were killed while sitting in their house, he said.

“She was just a young woman trying to improve her situation,” he said. “As with everything, it is not one way or the other. Certainly there are launch sites in civilian areas, but innocent civilians are being killed in their homes.”

He said CRS was working to procure nonfood items for Gazan residents for a time when staffers could distribute them.

“It has been terrible. People are fasting for the month of Ramadan, they are not eating or drinking during the day and they have only a few hours of sleep with the airstrikes and the drones flying overhead,” said McGarry. “It is very frightening, frustrating and disappointing. Clearly this latest round of hostilities is more intense. The indiscriminate targeting of civilians is unacceptable, whoever is doing it.”

Dr. Issa Tarazi, executive director of Near East Council of Churches Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, told Catholic News Service July 18: “There is shooting everywhere, bomb strikes and airstrikes. There are explosions all around. Nobody can move.

“Gaza is so crowded; everywhere you shoot, there are people. We have experience with this, and we don’t want it to be repeated,” he said.

In a post on the Spanish website of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, Father Jorge Hernandez, parish priest in Gaza, said he had shared the translated message of support from Pope Francis with this parish and other Christians.

“Dear brother, I am with you and the sisters and the entire Catholic community. I accompany you with my prayers and closeness. May Jesus bless you and the Virgin Mary protect you,” Pope Francis wrote in Spanish to his fellow Argentine priest.

Father Hernandez, who asked for prayers, spoke of visiting his parishioners, where he saw “terrible moments of fear, confusion, stress, crying, but always, always, always at the end of their stories is the profound confidence in … praising God.”

 

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Francis prays for victims of downed Malaysian jet, urges peace in Ukraine

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY —Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when it came down in eastern Ukraine.

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash July 17 in Grabovo, Ukraine. It is believed all 295 people aboard died in the crash. (CNS photo/Maxim Zmeyev, Reuters)

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash July 17 in Grabovo, Ukraine. It is believed all 295 people aboard died in the crash. (CNS photo/Maxim Zmeyev, Reuters)

According to Australian news reports, as many as 108 of those who died July 17 were on their way to Melbourne for the International AIDS Conference. Also killed was Sacred Heart Sister Philomene Tiernan, a member of the staff at Kincoppal-Rose Bay School, a Catholic girls’ school in Sydney.

“The Holy Father, Francis, has learned with dismay of the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, a region marked by high tensions,” said a statement July 18 from the Vatican press office. “The pope raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”

Given the ongoing tensions between Ukraine, Ukrainian separatists and Russia, and reports that the plane was flying at 33,000 feet, it was widely believed the plane was shot down.

Regarding the death of Sister Tiernan, the school principal sent a message to parents confirming the news and saying, “this has come as an enormous shock to me and our school community.”

“I heard from Phil yesterday morning,” when the nun was still in France, wrote the principal, Hilary Johnston-Croke. “She told me that she had left Joigny, where she had been attending a retreat,” and had gone to Paris to venerate the remains of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart, “which was a very special moment for her.”

“We are devastated by the loss of such a wonderfully kind, wise and compassionate woman who was greatly loved by us all. She was a great friend and mentor to me personally,” the principal said.

The Archdiocese of Sydney announced that a special memorial Mass for all of the victims would be celebrated July 20 in St. Mary’s Cathedral. Australia’s governor general and prime minister were scheduled to attend the Mass.

In Melbourne, as representatives of faith-based groups caring for people with HIV/AIDS held a pre-conference to the international AIDS meeting, they began their work with prayers for the victims.

The White House press office released a statement July 17 offering the country’s condolences to the victims and their families.

“It is critical that there be a full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible,” the White House statement said. “We urge all concerned — Russia, the pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine — to support an immediate cease-fire in order to ensure safe and unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators and in order to facilitate the recovery of remains.”

 

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