Photo: Nuns join worshippers during an Aug. 8 prayer service in Fuheis, Jordan, to remember the first large exodus of Iraqi Christians targeted by Islamic State. (CNS photo/Nader Daoud)
One year after ISIS extremists stormed the villages of the Nineveh Plain in the middle of the night, driving out more than 120,000 Christians, most of those who fled remain in their places of exile. Largely due to the heroic efforts of the priests and religious sisters exiled with their community, however, panic and fear have been replaced by resilience and grace, said CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar.
“The churches are working together, Chaldean and Syriac, Catholic and Orthodox, setting up educational and catechetical programs for children; health care facilities for expectant mothers, infants and toddlers, the handicapped and the elderly; counseling for all those struggling to cope; and temporary housing to replace the tents,” he added.
“The community is beginning to display some of the daily rhythms of normality again,” reported CNEWA’s correspondent in Kurdistan, Don Duncan. “Kids are going off to school, mom is cleaning the house or preparing dinner for when they come home.” But, he added, “the male population is still chronically underemployed, domestic tensions continue to flare in households, living conditions remain cramped and disease is rampant.”
“While much dignity has been restored — thanks largely to the work of the parish priests, religious sisters and parish volunteers, most of whom are displaced themselves — displaced Christians remain in limbo, and their long-term needs are great,” said Msgr. Kozar, who accompanied the Holy See’s Cardinal Leonardo Sandri on a pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan in early May.
During his many pastoral visits to displaced Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon and Jordan, CNEWA’s Msgr. Kozar said he is always struck by the indomitable spirit of the people he meets.
“Again and again,” he said, “I have encountered resilience and hope. They want us to know one thing: They love the Holy Father. And they are grateful for his prayers. They want us to know they remain steadfast in their faith in Jesus.
“ ‘They have taken our homes,’ ” he recalled one girl telling him, “ ‘but they will never take our faith.’ ”
In the last year, CNEWA has disbursed more than $7.2 million to assist Iraqis and Syrians — many of them Christian — displaced by extremists in the “cradle of civilization.” These funds represent the generosity of Catholics from North America and Europe and have enabled CNEWA’s on-the-ground partners, the local churches, to respond to the needs of men, women and children devastated by the agents of hate. CNEWA activities include:
- Rushing essentials to families fleeing ISIS in the Nineveh Plain and northeastern Syria. Monies purchased milk and diapers, food packages, water supplies, bedding, medicines and sanitary kits
- Securing bedding, clothing, hygienic supplies, food and water for Iraqi and Syrian Christian refugee families hosted by church communities in Jordan and Lebanon.
Health care initiatives
- Setting up, equipping and operating clinics in Erbil, Dohuk and Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan
- Subsidizing Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, which offers refugee women pre- and post-natal care
- Supporting the daily clinic at the Italian Hospital in Amman for the treatment of refugees
- Providing medical care for displaced families in Syria and refugees in Lebanon.
Educational and pastoral outreach
- Providing counseling, tutoring, catechesis and English classes to Iraqi and Syrian Christian refugee families at the Pontifical Mission Community Center in Amman
- Securing a social worker to assist the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in their work at the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa
- Hosting summer Bible camps for refugee children in Jordan. Run by parishes and congregations of sisters, Bible camps offer children a respite from the drudgery of poverty. Camps provide counseling, catechesis and recreation
- Supporting educational programs for displaced Syrian and Iraqi children as well as assistance for refugees attending Catholic schools in Jordan.
An agency of the Holy See founded in 1926, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches and is a registered charity in Canada and in the United States. All contributions are tax deductible and tax receipts are issued. In the United States, donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org; by phone, 1-800-442-6392; or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195.