Knoxville, Tenn., Nov 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Susan Dakak learned of the shocking Oct. 31 attack that killed 70 people and wounded 75 at Baghdad's Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation before the world heard the news. As the attack took place, worshipers trapped inside the captured church sent her their reports via cell phone.
Dakak is a member of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq and a board member of the advocacy group, Iraqi Christians In Need. During the attack on Our Lady of Salvation, she told CNA that members of the Women's Alliance were “receiving phone calls, throughout the ordeal.” She said several hostages inside the cathedral “basically walked us through the whole thing,” sending e-mails and text messages detailing the captivity from which many never re-emerged.
Iraqi Christians, she said, are accustomed to this close contact with their friends and relatives who have emigrated to America. “We have people on the ground … sending us e-mails all the time, to let us know what's going on in Iraq.” Last week they had more to report, as a series of bombings targeting Christian neighborhoods killed three and injured dozens.
She received a video from another man in Baghdad, who described the experience of receiving a message from his son from inside Our Lady of Salvation. “He ran to help them … he went and stood outside the church, and there wasn't anything he could do.” Suicide attackers would eventually kill the man's son. Even the police, he told Dakak, had arrived too late to stop them from killing or seriously wounding nearly everyone inside.
Susan Dakak left Iraq for America decades ago, during the 1970s. At first, she said, it wasn't clear why she should have escaped the misfortunes others had to stay and endure. But as time went by, she realized the extent to which she could advocate for the rights of Iraqis. Now, because of technological advances, she has “real-time contact with them,” receiving reports of anti-Christian persecution and other daily struggles in the war-torn country.
She said some Iraqi Christian victims of religious terrorism express “forgiveness, talking about how we are all Iraqis, (and) these (attackers) are just criminals.” Others are “just sitting there, with their hands up, saying 'God, why have you forsaken me?'”
Many of the messages Dakak receives describe the Iraqi Christians' struggle to forgive their persecutors. They recount how groups of extremists, acting in the name of Islam, seek to drive out Iraqi Catholics whose church existed centuries before Muhammed was born. Adherents of Islam write to express sorrow and regret for the attacks, but Dakak said they won't take the risk of condemning them publicly.
Dakak noted she had just finished responding to an e-mail from one Iraqi Christian woman, telling her she had no choice but to forgive those terrorizing the church. She reminded the woman of how Pope John Paul II immediately forgave the man who shot him, in 1981. “That's what Jesus taught us to do,” she said.
In Iraq, the faithful are undergoing a constant course in the hardest part of discipleship. About an hour after CNA spoke to Susan Dakak on Nov. 15, the country's foreign minister reported two men had been killed in an attack targeting Christian homes in Mosul.
Iraqi Christian immigrants have begun raising their voices to tell the world what they're hearing from home. They've held rallies in centers of Iraqi Christian immigration, from Detroit to Brussels, and a march on Washington, D.C. is planned.
But two Chaldean priests who have relocated to America –Fr. Michael Bazzi of California, and Michigan-based Fr. Manuel Boji– both told CNA this week that even a worldwide awakening won't resolve Iraq's long-running religious and political crises.
That outcome, they say, will require a combination of internal reform and external diplomatic force, in addition to worldwide advocacy from Christians and human rights groups.
For her part, Susan Dakak intends to keep working behind the scenes. She hopes that her strategy of applying steady political pressure to Iraqi, American, and international officials will bear fruit, providing protection to allow Chaldean Catholics to remain in their homeland.
She has begun forwarding reports from her Iraqi contacts, not just to a variety of U.S. officials, but also back to government officials in Iraq. By gathering reports to deliver to the government of her native country, she hopes to lobby on behalf of Iraqis for whom the daily business of survival takes priority over political activism.
“The parliament and other members (of the government) that we know in Iraq, we're sending them emails, we're bombarding them with letters and information, and saying 'You've got to do something about this, you know, this cannot keep going'.”
She also wants Muslims in Iraq and around the world to do more than just lament terrorist attacks as they happen. “I keep telling them, no one is going to solve this problem, if you don't step up and condemn these acts. If you don't tell the terrorists that they are not (authentic) Muslims, and take religion away from them, they're going to take your religion away from you.”
But so far, she said, her Muslim contacts “just tell me how sad they are, and how bad they feel, and they wish this whole thing will go away.” She said she's still waiting for Islamic authorities to do their part for peace, by taking decisive and direct action against terrorists within their religion.
Vatican City, Nov 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Rarely does Pope Benedict XVI make appeals on behalf of individuals. But the Pope broke from custom Nov. 17, when he ended his weekly general audience with a plea for Pakistani officials to free a Christian mother recently sentenced to death.
Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of four, was convicted of blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad and sentenced to death by hanging in the town of Sheikhupura, near the capital city, Lahore.
Bibi has said she is being persecuted for defending her faith to Muslim co-workers who claimed that Christianity was a "false religion." She was jailed days later, brought to trial and convicted for blasphemy, a crime punishable by death in Pakistan, which is a self-professed Islamic Republic where the rights of religious minorities are sharply restricted.
The Pope said Pakistan should grant Bibi “complete freedom ... as soon as possible.” He added a pointed reference to the lack of religious freedom in the country. He also expressed “great concern” for Christians there, “who are often victims of violence or discrimination.”
In his appeal, Pope Benedict expressed his “spiritual closesness” to Bibi and her family.
Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, Pakistan was quick to respond to the Pope's appeal.
He expressed gratitude for the Pope's support of Bibi and for his recognition of the “sufferings of Christians in Pakistan and our rights," he told the Vatican missionary news agency Fides.
The Pope also prayed for all peoples in situations similar to Bibi's, urging that “their human dignity and fundamental rights may be fully respected."
A formal appeal against Bibi’s sentence is being filed.
Peter Jacob, the Pakistani Bishops Conference's executive secretary for justice and peace, told Vatican Radio Nov. 16, that "the death sentence has shocked the civil society" in Pakistan.
“There are a number of appeals going on – signature campaigns – to make the authorities, the prime minister and parliament aware of people’s sentiment that this injustice is not acceptable to the people of Pakistan,” he said.
The bishops’ campaign has generated more than 75,000 signatures demanding repeal of the country’s blasphemy laws. In addition, Aid to the Church in Need is organizing campaigns in Italy and France.
The Pakistani government has been flooded with more than 40,000 e-mails calling for Bibi’s release and for repeal of the country’s blasphemy laws, Fides says.
Bishop Francis said there is also a campaign in Pakistani churches "to pray for her release, entrusting her suffering to the Lord."
The guilty verdict is "very sad" and "a great injustice and suffering to inflict" on Bibi's family, he said, but it is indicative of "continuous abuse of the law on blasphemy."
Caracas, Venezuela, Nov 17, 2010 (CNA) - Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, Venezuela is reminding Catholics of their duty to contribute financially to the Church.
In a Nov. 12 press release the cardinal called on Catholics to participate in the national campaign, “Support Your Church,” which will be held Nov. 27 and 28.
“We are all called to participate by contributing a portion of our economic resources” so that through our generosity, “the Church’s works can be sustained,” the cardinal said. He noted that “it is more of a blessing to give than to receive.”
He also urged Venezuelan Catholics to be generous with their time by participating in the activities of their parishes and dioceses.
The “Support Your Church” campaign will be used to help finance the Church’s work in Venezuela and will also support elderly and sick priests.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov 17, 2010 (CNA) - Bishop Jorge Lozano of Gualeguaychu, Argentina is calling the government to give financial “credits” to parents of unborn children as part of their Universal Child allowance program.
The bishop's words came during a celebration on Nov. 14 for the country's Day of the Sick.
In 2008, Argentina's government approved the program which allows some parents to receive an allowance for each child under the age of 18.
Parents receive an additional credit if the child has a disability.
Commenting on the theme of the Day of the Sick, “Healthy Children Are The Hope of the Country,” Bishop Lozano said, “Childhood is time in which the opportunities of the future for each child, and for the country, quietly build up.”
He added that society cannot “neglect the smallest and weakest of its members.”
Mosul, Iraq, Nov 17, 2010 (CNA) - The situation for Christians in Iraq is becoming bleaker. The violence directed against them is no longer limited to the capital city Baghdad, but has been spreading throughout the country.
Two Christian men were killed Nov. 15 in the northern city of Mosul, about 250 miles northwest of Baghdad. The men were shot as they sat in the living room of their home.
The latest wave of violence began Oct. 31 when Muslim extremists massacred more than 50 worshipers in Baghdad’s Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation. Bombings of Christian homes around the city quickly followed as part of what some Church officials and other analysts describe as a concerted effort to erase the ancient Christian footprint from the nation.
Father Firas Benoka, a Syrian priest in Mosul, said Nov. 16 that at least five Christians have been killed in Mosul and Baghdad in recent days. Some were murdered in their homes while others were victims of car bombs.
A report from Italy's Catholic Avvenire newspaper placed the death toll of Iraqi Christians in recent days at seven.
"There is a climate of terror that fills the Christian homes not only in Mosul and Baghdad, but also those on the plain of Nineveh," Fr. Benoka told CNA of the mood in the country.
The plain of Nineveh, where Mosul is located, is one of the ancient cradles of Catholicism. The towns and villages that dot the plain are home to some of the world’s original Christian communities, dating back nearly 2,000 years to the dawn of Christianity.
These communities have been the target of numerous attacks in recent years. In February, five family members of a priest were killed in their Mosul home. Separate bombings of buses carrying Christian students to the University of Mosul took place in both May and August, with many casualties.
Kidnappings and killings of Christians have become almost routine in the city.
Experience has proven that all Christians are vulnerable. In February 2008, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul's Chaldean Catholic rite was kidnapped and killed. In 2005, the current Syrian Catholic Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of Mosul was kidnapped, but released after one day in captivity.
Archbishop Casmoussa told CNA in an e-mail interview that the situation on the ground in Iraq today is "tense."
Christians, he said, feel like "hostages of fear," he said.
But there are glimmers of hope and reconciliation.
Muslim and Christian leaders in the city of Irbil issued a joined statement Nov. 12 condemning the anti-Christian violence. Mullahs, or spiritual leaders, representing both main Muslim factions, the Sunni and the Shiite, have promised to use their pulpits to invite people "to be instruments of peace and fraternity rather than violence."
Islamic extremists such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq, which claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Our Lady of Salvation, are directly responsible for attacks. But Archbishop Casmoussa said these groups are able to operate with impunity because Iraq’s government has been in discord.
Recent efforts to form a unity government among rival factions in the country remain fragile. Yet many hope that the efforts will lead to better security that will stem the violence and the resulting emigration that afflict the country's Christians.
In his opening speech to Iraq’s House of Representatives Nov. 11, newly elected Speaker Qusay al-Suhail, declared the security of the Christian community a top priority. He openly deplored the killings at the cathedral and Christian homes in Baghdad.
Archbishop Casmoussa welcomes the new expressions of concern.
“In terms of declarations, we are really saturated,” he said. “What we are asking for are concrete actions. We must find a solution, solutions, effective ways to safeguard the security of Christians.”
The archbishop suggested that Christians might be granted their own “separate autonomous geographic region, with international budgetary and infrastructural guarantees, especially for security.”
The Iraqi government since 2005 has recognized an autonomous region for the Kurdish people. It is located in northern Iraq, along the borders with Turkey, Iran, and Syria.
The archbishop wants to stem the tide of Christians exiting Iraq. But he acknowledged that the violence and uncertainty are the main causes of emigration.
"Things must not be left to fester in such a way that Christians leave their country," he said.
One Syrian Orthodox leader, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, who is based in London, received attention earlier in November for encouraging emigration of Christians from Iraq. Archbishop Dawood told CNN that he advised Christians to “escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing."
"This," he said, "is better than having them killed one by one."
Archbishop Casmoussa said Archbishop Dawood does not speak for Christians in Iraq. “He does not live in Iraq … ”
Archbishop Casmoussa asked for assistance from the international community to ensure the safety of Iraqis and stop the mass emigration. He specifically uged international companies doing business in Iraq to push for greater human rights protections and to use their economic clout to put pressure on the Iraqi and U.S. governments.
He is also calling on the Iraqi government to investigate and bring the terrorists to justice.
If they do not, he said, the United Nations must step in.
Until the perpetrators of this religious violence are brought to justice, Archbishop Casmoussa said, "Christians will not feel safe. The hemorrhage of emigration and violence will continue to undermine the Christian presence in Iraq and it will be disaster for Christians."
Vatican City, Nov 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Nov. 17, Pope Benedict XVI told general audience attendees how a 13th-century Belgiun nun, St. Juliana of Cornillion, helped to inaugurate the widely-celebrated feast of Corpus Christi.
The Pope recalled St. Juliana's tragic loss of her parents at age five, after which she entered an Augustinian convent. She eventually became a nun in the same order, and later prioress of the convent, where the sisters recognized her intellectual gifts and her love of the Eucharist.
At 16 years-old, Juliana had experienced a vision that convinced her of the surpassing importance of the Eucharist. She envisioned a new liturgical feast, to deepen belief in Jesus' sacramental presence and compensate for insults and mistreatment against the Body of Christ. This vision persisted for 20 years, eventually prompting her to disclose it to two of her companions.
Together, they formed what the Pope called “a kind of 'spiritual alliance' with the intention of glorifying the Blessed Sacrament.” They eventually proposed the Feast of Corpus Christi to Bishop Robert Thourotte. He agreed to celebrate the solemnity in his diocese, with processions offering royal honor and Divine worship to Christ in his sacramental form.
Other bishops soon chose to celebrate the feast, which eventually gained a universal stature in the western Church. But, as Pope Benedict recalled, Juliana herself “had to suffer the harsh opposition to certain members of the clergy,” including her own religious superior. This prompted her to leave the Augustinian convent in 1248.
Juliana spent 10 further years among different groups of Trappist nuns, and “zealously continued to spread Eucharistic devotion” among them. She died in Fosses-La-Ville, Belgium in 1258, aged 65.
Only six years later, after investigating evidence of an Italian Eucharistic miracle, Pope Urban IV fulfilled Juliana's vision to honor Christ's body with a liturgical feast. He instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi as a universal feast for Western Christians and asked the renowned theologian St. Thomas Aquinas to compose its liturgy.
In his general audience address, Pope Benedict stressed that St. Juliana's spirit of love and awe for the Eucharist remained vividly alive among Catholics.
“Joyfully I wish to affirm that there is a 'Eucharistic springtime' in the Church today,” the Pope told the crowd at St. Peter's. “How many people remain in silence before the Tabernacle sustaining a dialogue of love with Jesus!”
It was “consoling,” he said, “to know that many groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament,” as it was encouraged by St. Juliana and her companions. The Pope expressed his prayerful hope that Eucharistic devotion would continue to grow in parishes, “especially in Belgium, homeland of St. Juliana.”
Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of a common agreement on Baptism Nov. 16. The move has been called a “milestone” in ecumenical relations with certain Protestant groups.
During their fall assembly in Baltimore, 95 percent, or 204 bishops, voted in favor of an accord that would bring the baptismal practices of four Reformed Christian churches in union with those of the Catholic Church in the U.S.
The document, titled “Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism,” holds that Baptism is to be performed only once in a person’s lifetime. It adds that Baptism must be performed by an authorized minister, with flowing water and the employment of the Scriptural Trinitarian formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Although other bishops’ conferences around the world have established similar mandates, this is the first of its kind in the U.S.
The vote of approval allows “Catholic ministers to presume that baptisms performed in these communities are 'true baptism' as understood by Catholic doctrine and law,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta told the assembly of bishops on Nov. 16.
“The presentation of a baptismal certificate by Reformed Christians who wish to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, or to marry a Catholic,” he explained, “assures Catholic ministers that the baptism performed by a Reformed minister involved the use of flowing water and the biblical invocation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
The agreement is the result of six years of study and discussion between the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and representatives from the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, and the United Church of Christ.
Fr. Leo Walsh, associate director at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, explained the accord in a Nov. 12 e-mail to CNA.
Fr. Walsh called the initiative a “milestone in the ecumenical journey” that will aid interaction with Reformed Christians at the parish level.
He explained that the agreement will foster awareness of Baptism as the basis for “the real but imperfect communion that exists among Christ’s followers.” It will also prohibit the use of “innovative” liturgical formulas.
Mutually recognizing Baptism as “the gateway to eternal life” will advance Christian unity in obedience to Jesus’ prayer that “all may be one,” Fr. Walsh added.
Boston, Mass., Nov 17, 2010 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of Massachusetts have urged the ratification of a nuclear weapons treaty between the U.S. and Russia. Eliminating such weapons is based on a “deep commitment to preserving human life and dignity,” they said.
In a Nov. 5 letter to Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.), the bishops said the Catholic Church has “long been concerned about the threat of nuclear weapons.” They explained that the Holy See and the U.S. bishops continue to promote the two interrelated goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
They advocated the Senate’s ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed on April 8.
“We truly believe that this step is critical to making our world safer,” the bishops wrote.
The U.S. military leadership and nearly all past commanders of American nuclear forces have called for the treaty to be passed, according to the Washington Post reports.
The agreement would reduce the number of deployed long-range nuclear warheads from 2,200 to 1,550 among both American and Russian forces. It would also allow both countries to monitor the number and location of each other’s nuclear weapons. These inspections ended in December when the first START treaty expired.
President Obama has called passage of the treaty his top foreign policy priority during the lame-duck Congressional session. Treaties require 67 votes to pass the Senate. Republican electoral gains in the 2010 election will mean more bipartisan work for the president if the START treaty is not passed this session.
Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2010 (CNA) - Despite the intrigue and attention given to the topic of exorcism, the primary work of the Devil lies in daily “temptation,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki said, following a successful exorcism training weekend hosted by the U.S. bishops in Baltimore.
The Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism took place Nov. 12-13, just before the bishops' annual fall assembly. According to Bishop Paprocki, who chairs the Bishop's Committee on Canonical Affairs, the program came about after an increasing number of inquiries from priests in the U.S.
Because only a “small number” of priests have undergone exorcism training, the conference was held “really to provide some guidance for bishops,” he said.
He explained that exorcism training falls under the jurisdiction of the canonical affairs committee because of the requirement in canon law that says a priest needs permission from his bishop to perform an exorcism.
Over 100 bishops and priests attend the two day conference, which Bishop Paprocki said they described as “very helpful.”
In an interview with CNA, he said that “the reality is that an exorcism is really rare. It's really something rather extraordinary because possession – a person being possessed by a devil or demon – is also very rare.”
“Given the fact that possession and exorcisms are rare, people tend to think that that's the only activity of the Devil,” and they mistakenly think that “if I'm not possessed, I don't need to worry about the Devil,” he said.
However, it's “quite the opposite,” he explained. “The ordinary work of the Devil is temptation and everybody has to face that everyday.”
“The ordinary response to dealing with temptation” can be found in “the ordinary means of spiritual life that the church offers: the Sacraments, going to Confession, receiving Holy Communion, saying prayers and devotions, the Rosary, blessings, Holy Water, things like that,” he said.
“And in fact, I would go so far as to say that the Sacrament of Penance is more powerful than an exorcism.
“An exorcism is a type of blessing in effect – it's a sacramental – whereas the Sacrament of Penance is actually a sacrament,” the bishop explained.
“So if we live a good life, a good spiritual life that's sound, we don't need to worry about that.”
Bishop Paprocki smiled as he clarified that exorcism is ”sensationalized in the movies,” and that demonic possession “is not contagious.”
Usually it's needed “because people have willingly and freely opened the door to the Devil, looking for that kind of involvement and enjoying the pleasures that the Devil has to offer,” he said.
“It's a relationship – a relationship between a human person and a fallen angel – a devil.”
“Exorcism,” he explained, “is breaking that relationship,” and it “starts with the person renouncing Satan.”
Primarily, it “involves getting a person to renounce that relationship,” and “secondly, for a priest to intervene and invoke the power of Christ to break that relationship.”
Speaking on what determines the need for an exorcism, Bishop Paprocki said that “we use the principle that you have to exclude all the natural explanations before you resort to the supernatural.”
“That means getting a medical exam” and a “psychiatric assessment” first, he clarified. If a person is mentally unwell, bringing up the suggestion that he or she is possessed would undoubtedly make the situation worse.
“That's why a careful screening and permission from the bishop is needed,” he explained.