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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

By

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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British faith leaders warn Parliament not to legalize assisted suicide

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Catholic News Service MANCHESTER, England — The leaders of Britain’s faith communities have united to warn Parliament against the “grave error” of legalizing assisted suicide. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury joined 21 other of the most senior Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Jain faith leaders to protest the Assisted Dying Bill.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, has joined with other leaders of faith communities to oppose Parliament legalizing assisted suicide. (CNS file)

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, has joined with other leaders of faith communities to oppose Parliament legalizing assisted suicide. (CNS file)

The legislation scheduled to be debated in the House of Lords July 18 was designed to abolish the crime of assisting a suicide by allowing doctors to supply lethal drugs to people expected to die within six months and who are mentally competent. But in a July 16 open letter, the faith leaders said the bill would allow doctors to decide if some people are “of no further value” and that it would place vulnerable and terminally ill people at “increased risk of distress and coercion at a time when they most require love and support.” “This is not the way forward for a compassionate and caring society,” said the letter, signed also by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth and Dr. Shuja Shafi, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. “While we may have come to the position of opposing this bill from different religious perspectives, we are agreed that the Assisted Dying Bill invites the prospect of an erosion of carefully tuned values and practices that are essential for the future development of a society that respects and cares for all,” the letter said. The show of unity among faith leaders followed three senior Anglicans saying they supported assisted suicide. Lord Carey, who served as archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, each said they were in favor of the practice. Anglican Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham also has declared his support for “assisted dying,” making him the first serving bishop of the Church of England to say that doctors should be legally permitted to help their patients to commit suicide. “Today we face a central paradox,” Lord Carey wrote July 11 in the Daily Mail newspaper. “In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of the Christian message of hope.” The Church of England has opposed the bill on grounds of “patient safety, protection of the vulnerable and respect for the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship.” This position, according to the Church of England’s website, is consistent with successive resolutions against assisted suicide by its governing General Synod. In his Daily Mail piece, Lord Carey announced that he would dissent from such policy and vote for the bill. “The fact is that I’ve changed my mind,” he wrote. “The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.” On July 13, Archbishop Tutu expressed similar sentiments in a column for The Observer, a London-based Sunday newspaper. “I revere the sanctity of life — but not at any cost,” the Nobel peace laureate wrote. “Yes, I think a lot of people would be upset if I said I wanted assisted dying. I would say I wouldn’t mind, actually.” However, Archbishop Welby called the Assisted Dying Bill “dangerous.” He argued that an assisted suicide law would exert pressure on the sick, disabled and elderly to “stop being a burden to others.” “What sort of society would we be creating if we were to allow this sword of Damocles to hang over the head of every vulnerable and terminally ill person in the country?” he asked in a July 12 article for The Times newspaper. The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have encouraged the laity to write to politicians to ask them to oppose the bill. Catholic Bishops Mark Davies of Shrewsbury and Mark O’Toole of Plymouth have issued pastoral letters condemning the bill, and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth has announced that he will open the churches of his diocese for a “holy hour” of prayer and adoration July 17, the eve of the debate, in the hope that the legislation will fail. Lord Carey was nominated to Britain’s second political chamber on his retirement, but 26 Anglican bishops, including Archbishop Welby, sit there as “Lords Spiritual” and have a right to vote. If the bill progresses successfully through the House of Lords, later this year it will go to the House of Commons, where lawmakers will be allowed to vote according to their consciences. Under the 1961 Suicide Act, the offense of assisting a suicide is punishable in Britain by up to 14 years in prison.

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Church of England votes for women bishops, move called ecumenical obstacle

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The General Synod of the Church of England voted July 14 to authorize the ordination of women as bishops and approved motions pledging to respect and work with people who believe that, theologically, the vote was a mistake.

Before the vote, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, told the synod that “to pass this legislation is to commit ourselves to an adventure in faith and hope. Like all adventures, it carries dangers … uncertainties and for success will require integrity and courage.”

One of those uncertainties is its impact on the search for Christian unity. The Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches teach that since Jesus chose only men as his apostles, only men can be ordained priests and bishops.

Father Anthony Currer, the staff person for relations with Anglicans at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told Catholic News Service the vote “is not creating a new reality for our dialogue,” since other provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the United States and Canada, already have women bishops.

However, he said, “it is significant” that the move was made by the Church of England, the mother church of the communion, which is a point of reference for Anglicans worldwide.

With the Anglicans, Father Currer said, “we have communion, which we describe as impaired or impartial. An area we have to explore with our dialogue partners is what is sufficient for the full communion we are seeking.”

When the General Synod took the first steps toward preparing for women bishops in 2008, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity said, “Such a decision means a break from the apostolic tradition maintained by all the churches of the first millennium and is, therefore, a further obstacle for reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England.”

Archbishop Welby characterized the debate as involving “genuine theological arguments which differ,” and not simply differences based on cultural influences regarding the role of women.

The archbishop called on the House of Bishops to act on its promises by setting up a procedure for ensuring the place in the church of those who disagree.

“You don’t chuck out family or even make it difficult for them to be at home, you love them and seek their well-being even when you disagree,” he said.

The vote came after several hours of debate, much of it focused on whether or not the motion offered sufficient guarantees for the place and pastoral care of those with theological grounds for opposing the ordination of women, and on commitments to keep the Church of England united despite differing positions.

After the vote, the Anglo-Catholic group Forward in Faith issued a statement saying it was pleased that the Church of England “is committed to providing bishops and priests for our parishes, enabling us to flourish in the life and structures of our church.” However, the group also said it was “deeply concerned about the consequences for the wider unity of the whole church.”

The General Synod is elected from the laity and clergy of each diocese and meets at least twice a year to consider legislation for the church. The synod has 484 members divided into the houses of bishops, clergy and laity. Its resolutions must receive the assent of the queen before becoming law.

The vote on women bishops was part of the synod’s meeting in York, England, July 11-15.

The Church of England began ordaining women to the priesthood in 1994. Consultative votes in the 43 dioceses of the Church in England showed overwhelming support for ordaining women bishops. Synod members were told that the majority of people in all dioceses voted yes and only nine dioceses reported a favorable vote of less than 90 percent.

A motion on ordaining women bishops failed in the synod by a tiny margin in 2012; commentators at the time said it failed because it did not ensure accommodations for opponents’ continued membership in the church.

To address those concerns, the House of Bishops presented “five principles” to the synod, including one that recognized that “those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion.”

The bishops promised such Anglicans “pastoral and sacramental provision” in a way that “maintains the highest possible degree of communion and contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole Church of England.”

When Cardinal Walter Kasper, then the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was invited to address the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference in 2008, he told the delegates from around the world that ordaining women, especially as bishops, creates an obstacle to the Roman Catholic Church recognizing Anglican ordinations, a key step toward full unity.

The Second Vatican Council recognized that Anglicans held a special place among the Christian communities formed at the time of the Reformation because they maintained the three-fold ministry of deacon, priest and bishop and recognized the bishop’s role as a guardian of faith and the point of unity between the universal and local church.

Pope Benedict XVI, responding to a journalist’s question on a flight to Australia in 2008, said he hoped the Anglican Communion could “avoid schisms and splits” as they debated the ordination of women “and that they will find solutions that respond to the questions of our age, but that also are faithful to the Gospel.”

 

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Refugee official: ‘Everyone in Gaza considers themselves a target’

By

Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — The situation in hospitals in the Gaza Strip is dire, and Palestinians are saying that medical supplies will soon run out, said a cardiologist who serves with the Near East Council of Churches in Gaza.

Dr. Issa Tarazi, executive director of Near East Council of Churches Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees in Gaza, told Catholic News Service by telephone that Gaza’s streets have very little traffic, and only emergency and hospital staff workers are working.

Palestinians in Rafah, Gaza Strip, gather around the remains of a house that police said was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. Israel said it shot down a drone from Gaza July 14, the first reported deployment of an unmanned aircraft by Palestinian militants whose rocket attacks have been regularly intercepted. (CNS photo/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Palestinians in Rafah, Gaza Strip, gather around the remains of a house that police said was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike. Israel said it shot down a drone from Gaza July 14, the first reported deployment of an unmanned aircraft by Palestinian militants whose rocket attacks have been regularly intercepted. (CNS photo/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

“Everyone in Gaza considers themselves a target,” he told CNS July 14. “People are scared about what is going on.”

“There are many displaced people,” Tarazi added. During the interview, the sound of planes could be heard over the phone as Israel’s Operation Protective Shield headed into its second week.

Thousands of people have fled and are seeking refuge largely in U.N. schools and facilities. Israel has said it is keeping humanitarian corridors into Gaza open.

Tarazi said he expected outpatient clinics such as the Caritas clinic and private hospitals to have a greater influx of patients than usual once the hostilities are over because governmental hospitals will have little or no medical supplies left.

The Israeli Defense Forces launched an offensive into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in early July in response to Hamas militants lobbing missiles into Israel.

By July 14, more than 170 people, about half civilians, had been killed in Gaza, and hundreds more were injured. In Israel, where the Iron Dome defense system had warded off dozens of Hamas missiles, there was some property damage and a handful of injuries. The situation has continued to deteriorate following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths in the West Bank and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teen.

Tarazi said he had been unable to reach his work since the offensive began, and his wife and 17-year-old son left for Jordan to be with relatives so his son could continue with his studies. His three older children already live abroad, he said. He remained because of job responsibilities as well as to look after several elderly relatives, whom he could not reach because of the bombing.

“The situation is difficult; there is no future in Gaza, no work, no economy. They have to start their life (somewhere else),” he said about his children living abroad. “One day if the situation changes and there is work, maybe they can come back.”

Tarazi told CNS that the previous day, a missile landed on a four-story structure not far from where he lives. He said although Israel gives warning “knocks” to residents to leave, they have only seconds to evacuate their homes before the missiles come.

Israel maintains that their warnings give adequate time to civilians to leave the targeted areas, from where they believe missiles have been fired or where weapons are being hidden. Israel says they are also targeting militants’ homes.

“We pray for peace and justice,” Tarazi said. “We are against the killing of all civilians. It is a vicious circle, one starts shooting and the other replies and the losers are the civilians.”

“I hope things calm down and they begin to negotiate peace. We are fed up with this,” he added.

Father David Neuhaus, patriarchal vicar for the Hebrew-speaking Catholics in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told CNS: “What we are seeing is a cycle of violence signaling that especially the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are not willing to live together, despite the fact that when you ask most people here they are willing to do so.

“Instead of the leadership leading the people to a better place, they are keeping them in a deadlock.”

Despite the current situation, he said, people must have faith in God’s plan, believing that God will “make emerge a leadership who will speak a different language and not constantly refer to the ‘enemy’ on the other side but to ‘brothers and sisters’ on the other side.”

“There is enough space and resources here to build a society that can give a better future for the children. It will happen, it is only a question of when and how long we will have to wait,” said Neuhaus. “Our responsibility as religious leaders is to make sure people are talking in a responsible language which opens horizons and does not shut them. Unfortunately, that is not the language spoken by a large part of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership now.”

 

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After pope’s condemnation of mafia, bishop bans religious processions

July 10th, 2014 Posted in International News Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A bishop in Calabria has ordered an end to all religious processions in his diocese after 30 men carrying a large statue of Mary and hundreds of people accompanying the statue paused and bowed in front of the house of a presumed mafia boss.

The first reaction of Bishop Francesco Milito of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi, Italy, was to say that those who bowed during the July 2 procession in Tresilico “are clearly far from even a minimum spirit of pure, correct and authentic faith.”

The bow, he said, was a “gesture of blasphemous devotion that is the opposite of what is due to the mother of God.”

In protest the local commander of the Carabinieri, the Italian military police, and members of his squad who had been accompanying the procession with the statue of Our Lady of Grace left the procession.

Although July and August are the most popular months for the religious processions that remain a key part of annual celebrations in cities, towns and neighborhoods, Bishop Milito announced that, beginning July 10, all processions would be suspended until diocesan leaders could work out rules and procedures for preventing their abuse.

Bishop Milito said the decision was a call to “caution and an invitation to reflection and silence,” but should not be read as “a gesture of mistrust or judgment of those who contribute with dedication and righteousness to processions.”

The ritual bow was made in front of the home of Peppe Mazzagatti, 82, sentenced to life in prison, but serving his sentence under house arrest because of ill health. He was convicted in connection with his presumed ties to the ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia.

Bishop Milito told SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency, that “the lack of a correct reaction on the part of participants in the procession, including clergy and people active in the life of the church,” shows just how “hardened and dulled” people’s consciences are to the evil that is organized crime.

Pierluigi Natalia, a writer for the Vatican newspaper, wrote in the July 8 edition that “it certainly was not the first time something like this has happened in a region where the perversion of religious sentiment” is a characteristic of the mafia.

Because of the cultural ties to the mafia that some religious processions have had, Archbishop Salvatore Nunnari of Cosenza-Bisignano, president of the Calabrian bishops’ conference, said he would stop all religious processions in the region for at least two years.

“I think it would please Our Lady,” he said.

Also in early July, Italian newspapers were filled with headlines about prisoners, presumably with mafia ties, going on “strike” from attending Mass in the high-security wing of a prison in Larino. The stories said the inmates were protesting Pope Francis’ remarks in Sibari in late June that “those who follow the path of evil, like the mafiosi do, are not in communion with God; they are excommunicated.”

Bishop Gianfranco De Luca of Termoli-Larino, who celebrated Mass with the inmates July 6, told Vatican Radio they had not gone on strike, but the pope’s words had left them with serious questions.

“They were asking, ‘Does that mean we can’t go to Mass anymore? Can we receive Communion if we’re excommunicated?’” the bishop said. “They were shaken up by what the pope said.”

The men had so many questions for the prison chaplain, he said, that he decided to go see them in person. Before celebrating Mass for them, he said, there was a lively discussion about how people excommunicate themselves and what repentance means.

“But there was not a mutiny nor a decision not to go to Mass,” Bishop De Luca said. “Their consciences were moved by what the pope said.”

“Unfortunately,” he said, “movements of the heart and soul do not make news,” so media reports focused on the men being upset by the pope’s words.

 

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Argentine World Cup fans adopt a papal mascot

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Argentina fans wear masks of Pope Francis as they arrive for a fan fest in Rio de Janeiro July 9. Argentina plays Germany for the World Cup final July 13, a match that will pit two famous fans: Pope Francis, an Argentine, against retired Pope Benedict XV I, a German. 

(CNS photo/Abedin Taherkenareh, EPA)

(CNS photo/Abedin Taherkenareh, EPA)

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Gaza’s Christians work together to stay safe

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Members of the tiny Christian community in the Gaza Strip have been keeping tabs on each other and lending a helping hand to keep each other safe during Israeli airstrikes throughout the region, but nowhere in the territory is really safe, said a priest at the territory’s only Catholic parish.

Father Jorge Hernandez, an Argentine member of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, said that one night, after a bomb siren sounded, he helped three Sisters of Charity evacuate 20 handicapped children from their home to his.

A Palestinian man examines the damage to his destroyed house following an Israeli airstrike north of Gaza City July 11. A Catholic priest in Gaza said Israeli missile attacks are wide-ranging and that there is no safe zone. (CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA)

A Palestinian man examines the damage to his destroyed house following an Israeli airstrike north of Gaza City July 11. A Catholic priest in Gaza said Israeli missile attacks are wide-ranging and that there is no safe zone. (CNS photo/Mohammed Saber, EPA)

“We had to carry all the children in our arms,” Father Hernandez told Catholic News Service. “There is no space in my house, so we laid down blankets on the floor and put the children there.

“It was very intense and there was a lot of fear, but the bomb fell farther away,” he said.

Israel has said that its airstrikes in populated areas are targeted to the homes of militants, and they give phone warnings to all civilians in the house to leave the premises before attacking. The airstrikes began July 8.

While some people leave after the phone calls, there have been reports of others climbing on the roofs of houses to act as human shields. Almost half of the more than 100 Gazan dead are civilians, including women and children.

Father Hernandez said that three Gaza neighborhoods had been warned to evacuate, but there are no safety zones large enough for all the residents. Instead, the people seek refuge in government- and U.N.-run school buildings, he said.

“Everything is so close there is no place for them to go,” he said. “They are 100,000 people who have been told to leave, and then there is the problem of food and water for them. It is an enormous problem.”

The people of Gaza suspected that an attack was imminent a few days before Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, so the people prepared themselves by stocking supplies. Some neighborhood stores remain open, Father Hernandez said, and Israel has said it continues to allow food and humanitarian supplies to be taken into Gaza by truck. Media reported some 240 Palestinians with foreign passports have been allowed to leave the Gaza Strip.

Holy Family Parish was about to begin its summer camp and Father Hernandez was celebrating the opening Mass when the bombing began, he said, adding that the children were sent home.

The Sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word have been calling members of the parish to check up on them on a daily basis, he said, and he has remained in touch with his parishioners either by phone or by Skype. He is also in touch with the Greek Orthodox priest and Baptist pastor, and they remain united in helping the Christian community, he said.

“Maintaining contact with the people is important. Maybe I can’t reach them myself because of safety, but, for example, there is a very elderly woman who did not have any water on one of the most intense days of bombings, so I couldn’t go there but I called a neighbor who lived close by to bring her water,” he said.

Some 1,300 Christian Palestinians now live in Gaza amid 1.8 million Muslims, with 130 Catholics, a sprinkling of Baptists and a large majority of Greek Orthodox.

The Gaza Strip is a small area and the Israeli attacks are wide-ranging, said Father Hernandez, so there is no safe zone. Some Christian homes have had slight damage as a result of bombings, but as a whole most of the community has remained safe, and there have been no injuries, he said.

The Rosary Sisters serving in Gaza had left to visit their families when school ended, he said, as had his assistant priest, a Brazilian also from the Institute of the Incarnate Word. Three nuns of the same order — from Argentina, Brazil and Egypt — are in Gaza serving the parish.

Israelis in southern Israel have been under constant attack from missiles lobbed at them from within Gaza by Hamas militants, and residents of southern Israel have spent long hours in bomb shelters. Israel said July 11 that more than 550 rockets had been fired into Israel reaching into Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and as far north as the coastal city of Zichron Yaakov. Though there has been significant property damage, only one civilian and two soldiers have been reported injured. Most of the rockets have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

The bombings are not the only thing worrying the small Christian community in Gaza, Father Hernandez said.

Hamas is very strong in Gaza, he said, “and that makes people afraid that if the conflict continues for a long time, which it looks it will if someone does not come and stop it, there will be popular reaction against the Christians, as they have seen happen in other conflicts in the region.”

“When (the militants) see they are threatened and are going to lose, they usually go against the weaker segment of the population,” the priest said.

In addition, he said, before Operation Protective Edge began, an extremist Islamic group active in Iraq and Syria had demonstrated in Gaza.

“So you can see up to what level of fanaticism there is here, and people know that and (people) are afraid,” he said.

Father Hernandez described as a “cocktail” of very extreme forces present in Gaza and said the tiny Christian population was worried because of what they have seen happen to Christian communities in Syria and Iraq.

 

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