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Knights to send $2 million to restore Christian town in Iraq


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In 2014, the Islamic State removed hundreds of families of religious minorities from their homes in Karamdes, a mostly Christian town on the Ninevah Plain in Iraq. Just over two years later, the town, also known as Karemlash, was liberated.

A Catholic church destroyed by Islamic State militants in Karamdes, Iraq, is examined by a priest following the predominantly Christian town's 2016 liberation. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Irbil)

A Catholic church destroyed by Islamic State militants in Karamdes, Iraq, is examined by a priest following the predominantly Christian town’s 2016 liberation. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Irbil)

The Knights of Columbus will raise $2 million to assist these families in returning to their homes, according to Knights CEO Carl Anderson, who announced their pledge at the Knights’ 135th annual Supreme Convention being held Aug. 1-3 in St. Louis.

“The terrorists desecrated churches and graves and looted and destroyed homes,” Anderson said in his annual report, which was livestreamed from the convention. “Now we will ensure that hundreds of Christian families driven from their homes can return to these two locations and help to ensure a pluralistic future for Iraq.”

The Knights are following the example of the Hungarian government, whose new spending bill allowed for $2 million to be sent to the Archdiocese of Irbil in Iraq, assisting with the rebuilding of a Christian community near Mosul, Iraq.

Families who were previously displaced from their homes were able to return to their homeland because of the government of Hungary. This example served as proof to the Knights of the impact of returning families to their homes.

The cost of resettling one family is around $2,000, the amount the Knights are encouraging councils, parishes and individuals to donate.

“These Christian communities are a priceless treasure for the church,” Anderson said to the Knights attending the convention. “They have every right to live.”

The Knights have actively sought to provide humanitarian aid to Christians in Iraq, as well as Syria and the surrounding areas, donating over $13 million. In June, Anderson joined Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, in speaking in a news conference to urge the Senate to pass legislation that would provide U.S. humanitarian aid to the Archdiocese of Irbil, after the House unanimously voted in favor of the bill.

Pope Francis commended the Knights for their work in the Middle East in a letter sent to the Knights at the convention from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The pope professed his “gratitude for the commitment of the Knights to supporting our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East,” according to the letter.

Pope Francis also described the Knights’ relief fund as “an eloquent sign of your order’s firm commitment to solidarity and communion with our fellow Christians.”

In a news conference July 27, Secretary of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert reaffirmed the use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

“When we look at Iraq and we look at what has happened to some of the Yezidis, some of the Christians, the secretary (Rex Tillerson) believes, and he firmly believes, that that was genocide,” Nauert said.

In March 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry first declared that that ISIS militants’ actions in Iraq and Syria against minority Christian, Yezidi and Shiite Muslim groups was genocide.

The Knights of Columbus also will join the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for a “Week of Awareness” for persecuted Christians, which will begin Nov. 26 with a day of prayer for persecuted Christians.

In his annual report, Anderson urged each council of Knights to mark this day with “highest priority.”

“Our work has truly changed history,” Anderson said.

The work to rebuild Karamdes will begin the first week of August and any funds raised will go directly to the project.

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House OKs aid to genocide victims; Senate urged to act quickly


WASHINGTON — The co-authors of a House bill that will provide humanitarian aid to Christians and other religious groups suffering at the hands of Islamic State militants praised the June 6 House passage of the measure and urged the Senate to quickly act on it.

The House unanimously approved the bipartisan Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, or H.R. 390, in a voice vote.

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Bawai Soro, head of the Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle based near San Diego, is seen in Washington June 7 during a news conference about bipartisan support in Congress for the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Bawai Soro, head of the Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle based near San Diego, is seen in Washington June 7 during a news conference about bipartisan support in Congress for the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Co-authored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, the bill will provide emergency relief and aid to the victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, particularly the Christians in the Middle East as well as other religious minorities.

The humanitarian aid will be directed to groups such as the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Irbil, Iraq, which provides direct care for victims, and those groups in turn get the assistance to those in need.

Smith and Eshoo held a news conference June 7 urging the Senate to continue the progress of this legislation to ensure the swift direction of funds to the Middle East.

“We are celebrating something today that we believe is something that is going to make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people who have been persecuted by ISIS,” Eshoo said. “Certainly the Christians, those of my own background, the Yezidis, and other minorities in the Middle East.”

Since 2013, Smith has actively worked through hearings and mission trips to spread awareness of the situation of the victims of ISIS in the Middle East. Part of the effort was to get the United States to admit that what was occurring was genocide.

“As I think many of you know, Congress has been trying for the better part of three years to finally get a designation of genocide being committed by ISIS against Christians, Yezidis and some other Muslim minorities in the area,” Smith said. “Ultimately, it did become a policy of the United States of America.”

When then-Secretary of State John Kerry issued a declaration of genocide about ISIS in March 2016, it was one of the few times in the nation’s history that the U.S. government had made such a determination. Eshoo said the declaration requires further legislation that will confirm what the victims have endured.

“They too, like people in our country, want their lives to go on, especially for their children,” Eshoo said. “The State Department would not allow any U.S. dollars to flow to church organizations and this legislation allows for that.”

In addition to sending humanitarian aid for groups in Iraq and Syria to provide to genocide victims, the bill also ensures that the government’s money will be monitored.

“There will be accountability for these dollars,” Eshoo said. “But it is so essential to work with those who are on the ground that know exactly where the dollars should go.”

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus, has worked with Smith to get support of the bill and has testified on behalf of the measure.

“We must have the courage to confront reality and then we must have the courage to change reality,” Anderson said.

The Knights of Columbus has donated over $12 million to groups in the Middle East aiding Christian refugees. In addition, they recently began an ad campaign in an effort to raise more funds.

“These are people who are still praying in the language of Jesus,” Anderson said. “They have every right to survive.”

Chaldean Catholic Bishop Bawai A. Soro, who heads the Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle, which is based near San Diego, also attended the news conference. He said the current situation for Christians in the Middle East remains fragile, as they suffer at the hands of radical Islamic groups.

“It is very unfortunate that Iraq as a country still lacks the certain constitutional amendments that guarantee liberty and equality to all Iraqis,” Bishop Soro said. “It remains our dream that the Christians will not be second-class citizens in their own native homeland, Iraq. But instead, they will hopefully soon have equal social, economic, political, lives and statuses just as all Iraqis have.”

Haider Elias, president of the human rights group Yazda, whose own brother and other relatives were killed by ISIS, spoke to the critical aspect of the bill.

“As this legislation has been passed by the House, we urge the Senate to act upon it and expedite it as quickly as possible,” Elias said. “These Yezidis and Christians are in dire need for such assistance in order to survive as religious minorities in our region.”

Smith said that they have contacted several representatives in the Senate who they believe will offer similar support to the bill. He said he hopes they will vote within the next couple of weeks.”

By Josephine von Dohlen

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Bishop briefs Tillerson on church’s interest in building the ‘common good’


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace met with the country’s top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, March 23, for a policy-packed 35-minute conversation about immigration, the Middle East, Africa and the role of the Catholic Church’s efforts toward building “the common good.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“After some small talk about Texas,” the two spoke about the Middle East, about Iraq and Syria, reaching out to Central America and Mexico, and the situation in Africa, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, explaining his initial meeting in Washington with Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, who, like Bishop Cantu, hails from Texas.

Bishop Cantu said the meeting was about letting Tillerson know “that our only motive is to help build the common good, that we don’t have ulterior motives,” and explaining the bishops’ peace and justice committee’s work in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East.

Bishop Cantu, as the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, has spoken for a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, against the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for reducing the United States’ nuclear arsenal, and raised concerns about an executive order that targets refugees from some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, which are at odds with stances taken early by the Donald Trump administration.

“I have concerns,” he said in an interview with Catholic News Service, but said the meeting with Tillerson was about establishing a relationship that can help the church advocate for policy issues to help the common good.

“We bring a unique perspective,” said Bishop Cantu. “One of our principles in Catholic social teaching is the common good and that goes beyond our own church needs.”

Bishop Cantu said he talked about the church’s efforts in Congo and South Sudan and the need for stability in such places. U.N. agencies said in February that famine and war in the area are threatening up to 5.5 million lives in the region.

Because of the church’s humanitarian agencies, its solidarity visits, and long-term contact with local governments and populations around the world, the church lends a credible voice, Bishop Cantu said.

“He expressed that he was eager to have open lines of communication with us and to listen to our perspective on things,” Bishop Cantu said.

“The two areas we especially touched on were the Middle East and how to rebuild in Iraq and Syria. And the second topic that he wanted to hear our perspective on is the immigration issue, particularly how to reach out to Central America and Mexico,” said Bishop Cantu.

He said he emphasized to Tillerson the importance of having countries where religious minorities have a say in the government and of investing in rebuilding countries. The proposed Trump administration budget has been criticized for its plans to slash funding for the State Department up to 28 percent, or $10.9 billion. The cuts would greatly affect the department’s Food for Peace Program, which reduces hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, while proposing a $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase in military spending.

Bishop Cantu said he left information with Tillerson about the church’s concerns with the proposed budget.

“We’re concerned about the very steep increase in the military budget, the cutting back on foreign aid, we’re very concerned about that. I did want to emphasize how important development is in regions that need to be stabilized,” he said, “that those are wise investments of time and funds.”

The meeting also included a discussion about Christians in the Middle East, Bishop Cantu said, “and that Christians don’t want to live in a ghetto. … They believe it’s important that they live in an integrated society that is safe and secure,” to have a voice in local, regional as well federal government. He said he also emphasized “the fact that the (Catholic) church in the Middle East can act as a voice between the Sunnis and the Shia” and the importance of the church remaining in places such as Iraq and Syria.

“Any wise government official wants to listen to the voice of people who have a stake in different areas and to listen to the wisdom of experience,” Bishop Cantu said. “We have our brothers and sisters there, the church, who do live there. The fact is that … we bring a trusted voice.

“We bring some wisdom to the conversation,” he added. “Our vision is to build a society that’s stable, that’s just, that’s peaceful, and ultimately, that’s the goal of the state department … and so I think that’s why our voice is valuable to them.”


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Iraqi Christian leader visiting Mosul sees little future for Christians


Catholic News Service

MOSUL, Iraq — As some residents of the city of Mosul celebrate their new freedom from the Islamic State group, an Iraqi Christian leader who visited the war-torn city said Christian residents are unlikely to return.

“I don’t see a future for Christians in Mosul,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East.

Father Emanuel Youkhana, an archimandrite of the Assyrian Church of the East, walks through the rubble of a demolished church in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Father Emanuel Youkhana, an archimandrite of the Assyrian Church of the East, walks through the rubble of a demolished church in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Father Youkhana, who runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a Christian program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dohuk, entered Mosul in a military convoy Jan. 27, the day Iraqi officials raised the national flag over the eastern part of the city. Islamic State seized the city in 2014, causing Christians and other minorities to flee.

Once inside Mosul, Father Youkhana moved about freely, talking to residents and soldiers. He visited two churches, both heavily damaged.

:The churches were used as warehouses by Daesh,” he said, referring to the terrorist group by its common Arabic name. “They used the churches to store what they looted from Christian and Yezidi villages, but as the end neared they sold the buildings to local contractors, who started tearing down the walls to reuse the steel inside. If the army hadn’t entered for another couple of weeks, the buildings might have been completely destroyed.”

One building, belonging to the Syriac Orthodox Church, had not been completely swept for explosives, according to Iraqi soldiers in the area. The front of the building was painted with an Islamist slogan by the Islamic State, and a military commander told Father Youkhana his troops would gladly paint over it. Father Youkhana replied that it was not his church, so he had no authority to authorize the troops.

“And leaving it as is preserves the evidence of what Daesh did here,” he told Catholic News Service.

At another church, owned by the Assyrian Church of the East, the body of an Islamic State fighter poked out of a pile of garbage in front of the sanctuary.

Father Youkhana, who went to high school in Mosul, also photographed several houses that belonged to Christians, but had been given or sold to Muslim families by the Islamic State. While he doubts Christians will return, he believes they will be able to recover the value of their properties, notwithstanding attempts by the Islamic State to destroy local government records.

“Christians aren’t going to come back to stay. The churches I saw were not destroyed with bombs, but by the everyday business operations of the community. How can Christians return to that environment? It’s unfortunate, because Mosul needs their skills. Most Christians were part of the intellectual and professional class here, they were doctors and lawyers and engineers and university professors. But I don’t see how they can return,” he said.

Father Youkhana would make no predictions how long peace will last once the Islamic State is driven completely out of Mosul, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city. The Iraqi army units that expelled the Islamic State are largely Shiite Muslim. Several of the military’s armored vehicles sported flags of the Popular Mobilization Units, a Shiite militia, and Father Youkhana said he saw several examples of graffiti written by Shiite soldiers calling for violence against the Sunnis.

“Why do they do that?” he asked. “They are undermining their achievement. People are thanking them for liberating them, and in return they try to provoke them. Just because they have the upper hand now.

“They should think about sustainability,” he added. “The residents are welcoming you as a savior, so don’t wear out your welcome by provoking them.”

Father Youkhana also visited Qaraqosh, a Christian town 20 miles southeast of Mosul that he described as “a ghost town.” While Mosul was bustling with busy markets and people digging out from the rubble of war, the streets of Qaraqosh were eerily silent, with most houses blackened by fire but still standing.

He explored the remains of the Syriac Catholic cathedral, reportedly the largest church in Iraq. Blackened by fire, its courtyard was filled with the ashes of what had been the church’s library, as well as shell casings and bullet-ridden mannequins that the Islamic State apparently used for target practice.

Some Christian leaders are pushing for a quick return to Qaraqosh. One Christian member of the Kurdistan parliament said he is looking for $200,000 that would finance the return of 50 families, buying them the basic furniture and household items they need to re-establish themselves in their houses.

But Karim Sinjari, Kurdistan’s interior minister, told a visiting ecumenical delegation that neither the necessary security nor appropriate infrastructure are in place.

“I won’t stop them, but I would advise them not to go,” he said. “The conditions aren’t ready yet.”

Iraqi Christian leaders echoed his concern.

“Security is the most critical need we have,” said Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil. “Rebuilding our churches is the last thing we should think about. We want to first build houses for our people so they can live with dignity, and we need infrastructure in the villages. But all this is only possible if we can have security.”

“Unless there is security, whatever we build will be for Daesh, not for us,” said Syriac Orthodox Bishop Nicodemos of Mosul.

Some residents of Qaraqosh have returned, carrying weapons and wearing uniforms of the Ninevah Plain Protection Units, or NPU, a militia formed by the Assyrian Democratic Movement, an Iraqi political party allied with the Shiites. It operates in coordination with the Iraqi military, which has assigned it primary responsibility for protecting Qaraqosh and a nearby village.

Father Youkhana said he is troubled by the NPU’s role.

“They are trying to play politics as a big actor, when in reality they don’t have that power,” he said. “What little role they have is exaggerated in the Christian diaspora, where it starts to sound like a Hollywood movie. If you’re sitting in Phoenix, Arizona, or Sydney, Australia, you’re not aware of this.”

The NPU and other smaller groups “can offer a Christian cover to the Shia militias,” Father Youkhana said, “allowing them to say, ‘Look, we have the Christians on board with us. We are all the same.’ I’m sorry, but we are not all the same.”

Fadi Raad is tired of running from the Islamic State, so the 25-year-old Qaraqosh native joined the NPU and today patrols the streets of the town on the lookout for lingering terrorists.

“I’m here to defend my village, and because I want to save the Christians in Iraq. It’s difficult here now, but when the government and the NGOs repair all the houses, then the Christians will come back. The NPU is here to stay. It’s different now. If Daesh comes back, we will kill them all,” he said.

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Pope expresses shock over cruelty waged against innocent Iraqis


VATICAN CITY — As a military operation in northern Iraq fights to wrest control of areas held by retaliating Islamic State forces, Pope Francis criticized the “cruelty” and heinous violence waged against innocent civilians.

Smoke rises at Islamic State militants' positions Oct. 23 in the town of Nawaran, Iraq, near Mosul. (CNS photo/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)

Smoke rises at Islamic State militants’ positions Oct. 23 in the town of Nawaran, Iraq, near Mosul. (CNS photo/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)

He invited people to pray with him, asking that “Iraq, while gravely stricken, might be both strong and firm in the hope of moving toward a future of security, reconciliation and peace.”

Speaking to visitors in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 23 for the Angelus prayer, the pope said, “In these dramatic hours, I am close to the entire population of Iraq, especially that of the city of Mosul.”

“Our hearts are shocked by the heinous acts of violence that for too long have been perpetrated against innocent citizens, whether they be Muslims, whether they be Christians, or people belonging to other ethnic groups and religions.”

He said he was “saddened to hear news of the killing, in cold blood, of many sons and daughters of that beloved land, including many children; this cruelty makes us weep, leaving us without words.”

The pope’s remarks came as Iraqi government troops and Kurdish fighters backed by a U.S.-led coalition were seeking to retake control of Mosul, the nation’s second-largest city. As the so-called Islamic State lost control of a number of villages, it has stepped up attacks in other parts of the country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights verified reports that IS militants were forcing residents of surrounding villages into Mosul, presumably to be used as human shields.

As humanitarian groups worked to aid those already displaced by the offensive, many were preparing for what’s feared to become a mass exodus because more than 1 million people were thought to be inside Mosul.

Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Iraq said they were prepared to respond quickly to the expected crisis and have already been assisting thousands of people who fled since the new offensive began Oct. 17.

“We’ve been getting ready for Mosul for months by training additional staff and volunteers,” CRS Iraq country representative Hani El-Mahdi said in a CRS press release Oct. 21.

According to the United Nations, approximately 3,900 people have fled Mosul since the offensive was launched. Tens of thousands more were expected to join the some 3.3 million Iraqis who have been internally displaced since IS forces started controlling parts of Iraq in 2014.

CRS and Caritas said they were ready to provide shelter, water, sanitation and cash assistance, while offering priority care and protection to women, children, the elderly and the disabled.

El-Mahdi said the coming winter months will pose an additional challenge as well as the fear that aid may not reach those trapped within militant-controlled areas.

It’s estimated that more than 10 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid throughout the country, the CRS press statement said.

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Once Iraq recaptures Mosul, people will still need help, says archbishop



Catholic News Service


WASHINGTON (CNS) — The military operation to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group is not the only solution needed to get life back to normal, said Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil.

The Chaldean Catholic archbishop, who has called for such intervention in the past, said the solution was a package. People must “think again about the education, about the curriculum, about all the violent acts that happened during the last years.” Read more »

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Displaced Iraqi Christians are weary of waiting to go home


Catholic News Service
AINKAWA, Iraq (CNS) — Abu and Um Sabah had to trade a tent anchored in a soft, grassy patch in a park for a roughly hewn, five-story unfinished cement building as they sat out their forced displacement by Islamic State militants for a second year.
A colorful rug tapestry of the Last Supper dominated the bare concrete room they called home, with a small picture of the Mary on another wall to keep their spirits lifted. A son, his wife and three young children shared another room close by in the complex located in this Christian enclave on the edge of Irbil. Read more »

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Hearing focuses on need to protect religious minorities in Iraq, Syria


WASHINGTON (CNS) — A Capitol Hill hearing May 26 focused on protecting religious minorities, including Christians, from ongoing Islamic State persecution in Iraq and Syria.
Convened by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, the hearing aimed to find a path forward following the Obama administration’s March 17 recognition of Islamic State militants’ slaughter of Christians as genocide.
Smith credited a 280-page report commissioned by the Knights of Columbus titled “In Defense of Christians” as “perhaps the most important push outside the government” toward gaining official recognition of the genocide. Read more »

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Chaldean patriarch appeals to Iraqi leaders to work for reconciliation



Catholic News Service


BAGHDAD (CNS) — Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad urged Iraq’s leaders to put an end to the “institutional, economic and security deterioration” in the country.

“We call upon you, with a saddened heart and sorrow because of what is happening in Iraq and because the people are suffering from violence, poverty and misery,” Patriarch Sako said in a statement. Read more »

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Iraqis ask U.S. Catholic leaders to work for peace, ‘don’t forget us’


Catholic News Service

IRBIL, Iraq — A delegation of U.S. Catholic leaders visiting northern Iraq was challenged to go home and work for peace in the troubled region.

“You have come to listen to your brothers and sisters in Iraq who are suffering. The situation is very hard. We cry out with one voice, ‘Don’t forget us,’” Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad said during a Mass in the small village of Inishke, near Dahuk.

A woman holds an image of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York during a Mass in Inishke, Iraq, April 10. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

A woman holds an image of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York during a Mass in Inishke, Iraq, April 10. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

The Chaldean Catholic service included members of the local Christian community, as well as Christians who were displaced by the Islamic State group from elsewhere in Iraq. Representatives of the Yezidi and Muslim communities also greeted the delegation, which was headed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The group spent April 9-11 in Kurdistan, the autonomous region of northern Iraq. When Islamic State swept through Mosul and Qaraqosh in 2014, more than 125,000 Christians, along with other victims, fled to safety in Kurdistan, where CNEWA has helped local churches construct housing, clinics and schools.

Yet Bishop Warduni said peace trumps humanitarian aid any day.

“We don’t want anything. Iraq is very rich, but now it is very poor. We only want our rights to go back to our homes and villages,” he said.

Looking directly at Cardinal Dolan, Bishop Warduni said: “We need a good Samaritan, but a new one, and this is you, along with the other leaders who came with you. We thank you and your people, for they have done so much for us with their prayers and with their money. But we ask you to ask your government to establish peace in our country. Tell your president, please, that our children and our youth want to grow in freedom. Your Eminence, take with you our good wishes to your faithful, and don’t forget us.”

In his homily for the Mass, Cardinal Dolan told those in the small church: “You are now suffering away from your homes and families. You are on the cross with Jesus. But we can never forget that Easter always conquers Good Friday. The resurrection always triumphs over the cross.”

Speaking through a translator because the service was in Aramaic, Cardinal Dolan said: “Jesus is alive in the love and charity that his people have for one another. That is why in our time here in Kurdistan we have seen Jesus alive in hospitals and clinics and refugee camps and schools and parishes like this. And it is our privilege to be able to be part of this love and charity that you have for one another here.”

“We have come to tell you we love you very much,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We know of your suffering. And we can never forget you.”

The cardinal was accompanied by Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, who is also on the CNEWA board.

In an April 11 Mass in a camp for the displaced in Ankawa, on the outskirts of Irbil, the delegation got the same message it heard the previous day.

“We feel very grateful for this fraternal solidarity that you are showing. And we all do hope that you will intervene with your government, with those who have a word to say on the international scene, to be faithful to the principles on which your country was founded. That includes the right of all people, every human being, to live in freedom and dignity,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said in his homily.

“When we see that strong nations like yours uphold the rights of those who have been uprooted, at that time we will really live the hope of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.”

In an interview at the end of the visit, Cardinal Dolan said that the pastoral visit would provoke renewed advocacy back home.

“We value the relationship we have with our government, but we sometimes smile when outsiders think we have a lot more clout than we really have. But that’s not going to stop us from trying,” the cardinal said. “When we get back, Bishop Murphy and I will brief our fellow bishops and the Holy See, and we will share with our political leaders what we have seen and heard. We owe it to the people here because they have asked us to do that.”

Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that the church’s counsel was rejected in the lead up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which many believe helped create the conditions from which Islamic State emerged.

“Pope St. John Paul II told our presidents, ‘This will be a road of no return, and you will look back in future years and regret what you’re doing.’”

As they visited with the displaced and the pastoral workers who accompany them, some of what the U.S. church leaders saw and heard was not easy to experience. In an April 9 public forum in a displaced camp in Ankawa, Amal Mare was one of several displaced persons who offered testimony. She praised local Christians for welcoming her family when they fled from Qaraqosh.

“Yet when are we going to be able to leave? We are living here in misery, and we want to go back to Qaraqosh,” she said, sobbing as Cardinal Dolan embraced her. “We miss our churches. We are sons and daughters of the church. Here we created a church in this hall, and every night for the last 18 months we have all prayed the rosary here. But now we’re losing hope. How much longer will we have to wait?”

Meeting April 9 with a group of students at the Chaldean Catholic St. Peter’s Seminary in Irbil, Cardinal Dolan told the seminarians that they had good models of ministry from which to learn.

“Pope Francis keeps saying that we priests must be with our people. We just came from a refugee camp where we met a priest who slept outside on his mattress because he said he couldn’t sleep inside if his people were outside. We’ve met with sisters and priests who walked with the people from Mosul as they were fleeing. That’s the model of the priesthood. That’s Jesus. To be with our people all the time, to be especially close to your people in the difficult times,” the cardinal said.

The head of the Chaldean Catholic community in Kurdistan, which has provided a variety of services to the displaced, praised the church leaders’ visit.

“It has been a visit of solidarity, a visit of love, a visit of hope, where we can really feel that we are not forgotten, that we’ve been in the prayers of His Eminence and the bishops and the whole Christian community in America. It means a lot for us,” Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil told Catholic News Service.

In addition to Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Murphy, the delegation included Msgr. John Kozar, president of CNEWA, and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York.

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