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Baghdad, Iraq, Jul 24, 2014 / 10:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following the effective expulsion of Christians from the city of Mosul by Islamists last week, a prominent local abbot has voiced the need for concrete action supporting Christians in Iraq.

“The question and challenge is how to convince Christians they have (a) future in Iraq,” Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana wrote in a July 23 message to Aid to the Church in Need. “Nice words and sympathy statements are not enough. There should be deeds and practices.”

He called “public relations” statements made by the Iraqi government, such as “we are all Iraqis and all Iraq is ours” akin to “a person who is issuing bank checks but he doesn't have a bank account.”

Early in June, the Sunni militant organization ISIS began attacking cities in north and northwest Iraq, capturing Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province. On July 18, the group issued an ultimatum to Christians in the city, insisting they convert to Islam, pay jizya tax, or be killed. Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities fled the city, seeking refuge in villages in the Nineveh Plains and Kurdistan.

Archimandrite Youkhana's letter detailed the extent of ISIS desecration in Mosul: the city's some 30 churches and monasteries have all been seized, and their crosses removed. Many were looted and burned. The Syriac Orthodox cathedral of Mar Ephraim has been converted to a mosque.

The homes of Christians who have fled have been marked with the Arabic letter 'nun', standing for 'nusrani' – meaning Nazerene, or Christian. The homes have been confiscated for use by ISIS.

As Christians flee both north and east into Kurdistan and the Nineveh Plain, they are being stripped of what few possessions they had been able to carry with them. According to a report of Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a displaced family was forced from a car at a check point, beaten, and their gold, phones, cash, and car were all confiscated.

ISIS has not limited its attacks to Christians, however; all non-Sunni communities are targets. Shia mosques have been demolished, Archimandrite Youkhana recounted, and the Yazidi – an ethno-religious community – have also been targeted. The homes of Shiites have been marked with 'ra', standing for 'rejecter.'

ISIS has begun implementing female genital mutilation, according to reports.

Local Shiites of both the Turkmen and Shabak peoples have had their homes seized and destroyed, and they have fled to Erbil, in nearby Iraqi Kurdistan, 55 miles southeast of Mosul.

Archimandrite Youkhana noted that Turkmen and Shabak people adhering to Sunni Islam have been left in safety, saying this “reflects how deep the sectarian conflict is” in Iraq.

“The current situation reflects how the Iraqi structure was a fragile one,” he wrote. “Is there really a common Iraqi people feeling that they are one people and one country?”

Noting that the Shiites fleeing for Kurdistan are to be resettled in southern Iraq, where the majority of inhabitants are also Shiite, the abbot asked, “can anyone really expect” that they “will return back again to Talafar and Mosul? Personally, I doubt (it).”

Last week, Archimandrite Youkhana visited Bakhdida, Bartella, and Bashiqa, towns located fewer than 30 miles east of Mosul. All of them suffer from a lack of drinking water, electricity, and medicine, ISIS having cut off their supplies. Most of the Christians there are Syriac, either Catholic or Orthodox.

Bakhdida is a city of some 50,000, nearly all of them Syriac Catholics. Much of the city fled when ISIS seized Mosul, but local leaders told the abbot that about 80 percent had returned. “The current security situation is calm but the fear and horror is there as well,” he said.

In the town of Bashiqa, the local church is hosting 210 Christian families who were displaced from Mosul, Archimandrite Youkhana said. “This is good but it is extra burden upon the church whose resources are limited.”

Looking to the future, the abbot said he does not expect ISIS to expand into the Nineveh Plain, because of the peshmerga, or Kurdish militants; the Iraqi military in Tikrit; and because the population is not largely Sunni, and so is not inclined to accept the Islamist group.

In the larger picture, however, he said that “the indicators are for more and deeper conflicts between Shiite on one side, and Sunni and Kurds on the other side.”

Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq noted: “We hoped, after 2003, that Iraq would emerge a strong country with a constitution that will guarantee the rights of all Iraqis regardless of their religion, ethnicity, sect, social, and political affiliation … but that hope started fading rapidly.”

In a July 20 statement to the Christians of Mosul, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael I Sako, said that “our suffering, if joined to the suffering of our Savior Jesus, 'Man of Sorrows', will turn out to be a blessing and salvation to us and to others.”

The bishops of Mosul – gathering across denominations – assembled in the Erbil suburb of Ankawa July 22, under the leadership of Patriarch Sako. Their statement said they are “shocked, in pain, and worried about what happened to the innocent Christians of Mosul because of their religious affiliation,” adding that “it is a crime against humanity.”

“How else one can understand the expulsion of innocent civilians from their houses under the threat of death, the acquisition of their money, and the burning of their churches and monasteries that some of them go back to the pre-Islamic times? Isn't it a human and heritage disaster?”

The Mosul bishops called on the Iraqi government to protect Christians and other minorities; to provide financial support for the displaced families; and to give those families housing and schools if the crisis persists.

“We also call on people of conscience in Iraq and the world to (put) pressure on to those militants to stop the destruction of churches and monasteries and the burning of manuscripts and relics of the Christian heritage (which are) a priceless Iraqi and global heritage as well.”

The bishops showed their gratitude to Iraqi Kurdistan “for receiving and embracing the displaced families, providing them with the necessary aid,” contrasting this with their statement to the national government that “we are waiting for practical acts to reassure our people, not for statements of condemnation and denouncement.”

Their call for action and solidarity echoed the plea which ended Archimandrite Youkhana's letter: “Keep Iraqi suffering church and people in your prayers.”


Vatican City, Jul 24, 2014 / 06:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A young Sudanese woman dismissed of a death sentence for refusing to renounce her Christian faith has arrived in Rome with her family, where they met with Pope Francis a few hours after landing.

“Pope Francis was very tender with her, her husband, who was in prison, and thanked her for her courageous witness to perseverance in the Faith,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said of the encounter in a July 24 statement.

Describing the meeting between the young family and the Roman Pontiff as “very serene and affectionate,” Fr. Lombardi explained that for him encounter was “a gesture of closeness and solidarity for those who suffer for their faith.”

According to Vatican Radio, Ibrahim and her husband Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen, as well as their two children, 1-year-old Martin and 2-month-old Maya, who was born in prison, met the Roman Pontiff in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse at 1:00 p.m. local time.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also welcomed the family at the airport, calling it “a day of celebration.”

In May, the 27-year-old woman was charged with abandoning Islam under Sudanese law. Because her father was a Muslim, Ibrahim was legally considered a Muslim even though her mother raised her as a Christian after her father left the family when she was 6 years old.

Despite pressure and multiple death threats, Ibrahim refused to renounce her Christian faith while in prison.

In addition to the crime of apostasy – or the abandoning of the Islamic faith – Ibrahim was also charged with adultery. Her marriage to her Christian husband was not considered valid since she was considered a Muslim.

She was to receive 100 lashes for the adultery charge and was sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy.

After having her death sentence revoked by a Sudanese court June 23 due to international pressure, Ibrahim was re-arrested along with her husband at the Khartoum airport the next day on charges of forged documents. The entire family was detained for two days, until the new charges were dismissed.

Italian news agency Corriere della Sera reported that the family has remained in the Italian embassy of the Sudanese capitol, Khartoum, since June 26 until leaving the country on a flight that landed in Rome this morning at roughly 9:30 local time.

On board the flight along with the family was Italy’s vice minister of Foreign Affairs Lapo Pistelli, who has been following Ibrahim’s case. According to the agency, Pistelli had already met Ibrahim in Khartoum July 3.

The family is set to remain in Rome for a few days, after which they will depart for New York.


Updated at 4:17 p.m. Rome time with comments from details from Vatican Radio and more background on the encounter.



Seeing the Face of Christ in the Poor

Each Sunday, we hear St. Vincent’s name mentioned along with St. Louis and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne during the Eucharistic prayers. St. Louis we know was the King of France. We know St. Rose was a teacher and brought education to all children, especially the Native American Indians. We have heard of St. Vincent and we know he is associated with the poor and that the St. Vincent de Paul Society provides resources to those in need. St. Vincent was involved in the formation of priests and set up missionaries to go out among ordinary people and tell them about Jesus. About 150 years after his death, his missionaries came to the St. Louis area. They asked his intercession on their great mission of reaching out to the people in the wilderness of St. Louis, asking him to be our patron. 

In 1581, St. Vincent de Paul was born to poor farmers. He was the third son and learned how to tend the animals. His father thought this would be good for him, but Vincent was smart and everyone noticed. The neighbors convinced his father to send him to school and let one of his other brothers tend the animals. Therefore, Vincent went away to school. He got along very well and taught others. His teaching ability would become an asset to him and allow him many opportunities to bring others to Christ. Although, he lived almost 500 years ago, St. Vincent had a very interesting life. While making a journey by boat to a new city where he was assigned, St. Vincent was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. After years as a slave, his master decided to help him escape and chose to go with him. St. Vincent’s Christian example would lead his master to repent and return to the Catholic Church. 

The St. Vincent de Paul Chapel at the Cardinal Rigali Center

Everywhere St. Vincent lived and worked the example of his life would bring others to Christ. He was a tutor in a very rich household. He affected the parents of the children he tutored. In the 1500’s, dueling was the answer to any offense. Honor was everything. One day, the father of his students was in church praying before going off to duel. St. Vincent convinced the father that taking another’s life in a duel was cruel and God did not approve. The father amended his ways and followed the example of St. Vincent. The father and mother became St. Vincent’s greatest supporters and after the mother’s death, the father would go on to become a priest. 

This was the effect St. Vincent had on people. People would change their behaviors and amend their ways to live according to the church doctrines and follow the ways of Christ. St. Vincent had no desire to be rich or famous. Although he had influential friends, he was happy to stay working with the poor in every community. In a time when people lived extravagant lives with no regard to how the poor people lived, he would remind them of the vast differences in lifestyles. He found priests to be missionaries and formed Lady’s Charities. While volunteering for these charities, wealthier women would work alongside not so wealthy women to feed and shelter the poor. They founded hospitals and orphanages. Where there was a need, St. Vincent found ways to go to these people and meet them where they were. One day he decided to visit the prisoners who served their sentence rowing the large ships. The inhumane way in which these prisoners were treated saddened and shocked him. He appealed to the ship owners and gained permission to take care of these men. It was difficult work, but St. Vincent managed again to con-vert souls and bring more people to the Church. He said to his followers, “Love makes us see God and nothing else but God in each of those whom we love.” St. Vincent gave his life for others and taught everyone by his exam-ple. 

Each month our Pope has special intentions. He has general and missionary intentions. In September 2012, he asked God to send: “Help for the poorest Churches that Christian communities may have a growing willingness to send missionaries, priests, and lay people along with concrete resources to the poorest Churches.” On September 27, we celebrate St. Vincent de Paul’s feast day. This is an appropriate time to ask God to help the poorest. St. Vincent would approve, he once said, “By mutual support the strong will sustain the weak, and God’s work will be accomplished.” St. Vincent wants everyone to be an example of Christ in the world. To love all people as God loved us. --- Alethea Paradis, M.T.S.


St. Vincent de Paul's Legacy

Jesus said, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12) As Christians we are called by these words of Christ to love and care for one another. The greatest way to outwardly express our love for one another is through charity- by donating our time, talent, and treasures to those in need.

There are many ways to get involved in the Catholic ministries in the Archdiocese of St. Louis that help the poor,
abused, neglected, elderly, disabled and lonely in our community, and one way is through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. 

“Serving Christ’s needy is the first purpose of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.”

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides services in crisis intervention, housing, criminal justice ministry, transportation, and health.

Photo courtesy of svdpstlouis.org

Most parishes have a Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference, which are “chapters” of the Society. To find volunteer opportunities with your parish SVDP conference, you can call your parish office or look at the list of SVDP conferences.

To volunteer or donate to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul call 314.881.6000 or donate online.


Read more about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.



St. Charbel Makhlouf
7/24/2014 12:00:00 AM
On July 24, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. Charbel Makhlouf, a Maronite Catholic priest, monk, and hermit who is known for working miracles both during his life and after his death. On the occasion of his beatification in 1965, the Eastern Catholic hermit was described by Pope Paul VI as “ a new, eminent member of monastic sanctity,� who “through his example and his intercession is enriching the entire Christian people.�Born into humble circumstances in Lebanon during 1828, Yussef Antoun Makhlouf was the youngest of Antoun Zaarour Makhlouf and Brigitta Elias al-Shediyaq's five children. Antoun, who had been taken away from the family and forced into hard labor, died when his youngest son was only three. Yussef studied at the parish school and tended to his family's cow. Engaged in prayer and solitude from a early age, he spent a great deal of time outdoors in the fields and pastures near his village, contemplating God amid the inspiring views of Lebanon's valleys and mountains. His uncle and guardian Tanious wanted the boy to continue working with him, while his mother wanted him to marry a young woman. Yussef had other plans, however, and left home in 1851 without informing anyone. Yussef would become “Brother Charbel,� after making a pilgrimage on foot to his new monastic home. In this, he followed the example of his maternal uncles, who were already living as solitary monks at the Hermitage of Saint Paul in the Qadisha Valley. Charbel took his monastic vows in November of 1853, during a solemn ceremony which was closed to the public and off-limits even to his family. He subsequently studied for the priesthood and was ordained, returning to the Monastery of St. Maron. The priest-monk lived and served in the monastery for 19 years, showing great devotion to the life of prayer, manual work, and contemplative silence. Charbel's superiors observed God's “supernatural power� at work in his life, and he became known as a wonder-worker even among some Muslims. In 1875, he was granted permission to live as a solitary monk in a nearby hermitage dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. Rigorous asceticism, and a profound union with God, continued to characterize the monk's life for the next 23 years. Deeply devoted to God's Eucharistic presence, he suffered a stroke while celebrating the Divine Liturgy of the Maronite Catholic Church on December 16, 1898. He died on Christmas Eve of that year. St. Charbel's tomb has been a site for pilgrimages since his death. Hundreds of miracles are believed to have occurred through his intercession with God, both in Lebanon and around the world. He was canonized in 1977 by Pope Paul VI, who had earlier hailed the Lebanese Maronite saint as an “admirable flower of sanctity blooming on the stem of the ancient monastic traditions of the East.�

1 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 2 Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus saith the Lord: I have remembered thee, pitying thy soul, pitying thy youth, and the love of thy espousals, when thou followedst me in the desert, in a land that is not sown. 3 Israel is holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his increase: all they that devour him offend: evils shall come upon them, saith the Lord. 7 And I brought you into the land of Carmel, to eat the fruit thereof, and the best things thereof: and when ye entered in, you defiled my land, and made my inheritance an abomination. 8 The priests did not say: Where is the Lord? and they that held the law knew me not, and the pastors transgressed against me: and the prophets prophesied in Baal, and followed idols. 12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and ye gates thereof, be very desolate, saith the Lord. 13 For my people have done two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. 



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