|Koreans infected with 'Francis syndrome' after papal visit
Seoul, South Korea, August 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- A former Korean ambassador to the Holy See spoke of the effects of Pope Francis' recent visit to South Korea, saying that all of Asia now feels a long-term challenge to imitate his humble ways.
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VATICAN CITY, August 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- In a brief encounter with Pope Francis following his general audience Wednesday, former Pakistani minister Paul Bhatti discussed persecuted Christians and invited the pontiff to visit his country.
“I met him with my mom and it was a desire and a heartfelt wish of my mom to see the Holy Father and to share her views regarding peace in the world and regarding the persecution of Christians in the world,” Bhatti told CNA Aug. 28.
“I translated for her and conveyed this message, and I saw that the Pope was really moved by her statement, and he showed her, and me, that he is with us with his prayers,” and is with “all who are persecuted in the name of religion.”
Bhatti is the former Federal Minister of National Harmony and Minorities Affairs in Pakistan, which is a position he took on after the assassination of his younger brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed in 2011 by Islamic extremists.
The two had worked closely to assist the most marginalized and oppressed in the country, and strove to promote religious freedom, equality and social justice, particularly fighting violations of those areas within Pakistan.
Meeting Pope Francis was important, especially for his mother, Bhatti noted, because he is the “head of the Christian Church, it means head of all those who follow the Christian Church, our faith,” so his role is one of “humility” and a sharing in the “suffering due to the general situation of law and order.”
Recalling how his mother invited the pontiff to come and visit their small Christian community in Pakistan, the former minister explained that although he didn’t give a decisive answer, “He just had my mom’s hand in his hand and he had a big hug with my mom.”
“Afterward he expressed that he is with us and his love, care, etc., is toward all those who are a part of our Church.”
The current situation in Pakistan “is quite complicated,” he noted, because there is “sectarian violence, there’s extremism, there’s terrorism and there’s instability” on a political and economic level, as well as problems with “law and order” in general.
“So the situation of Christians and all those who belong to the weak sector of society is directly proportionate to the general stability of our country,” Bhatti observed, stating that “I think it’s getting worse.”
“It’s not only one community that’s being targeted, but the whole country and its population, where we lived in Pakistan even Muslims are a target. But it’s getting worse.”
What can help, he explained, is if the international community unites to “try to bring peace and stability in that country. And if the country is stable, if there’s peace in the country I think everybody will get benefit of that.”
“It’s needed that the international community and those who have influence should use it to bring peace in that region and stability.”
Reflecting on the great solidarity Pope Francis has shown toward persecuted Christians across the Middle East, Bhatti explained that what the pontiff is saying is that “we belong to one community, we belong to one faith, we belong to one Church and everybody is united with each other whether they are in Pakistan, whether they are in Italy or whether they are in America.”
“So this bond, this kind of relationship on the basis of the faith we have with each other, this keeps us united and he is there to help us, to be with us, and for him it’s not important who is where, but he is strongly concerned with the persecuted people of the whole world.”
NEW HAVEN, CONN., August 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The Knights of Columbus partnered with Connecticut-based EVTV to produce a documentary on hope and healing of Haitian children injured in the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that rocked the country.
The film, “Unbreakable: A Story of Hope and Healing in Haiti,” will be featured at the Portland Film Festival on Saturday, Aug. 30.
In January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed over 100,000 people, injured thousands and left around 1.5 million homeless. The documentary tells the story of an often overlooked group affected by the earthquake – thousands of children who received emergency amputations in order to survive the injuries they sustained.
“This film shows that when there is the will do so – both in terms of those providing aid and those receiving it – lives can be saved and transformed by a program that is truly sustainable,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson, executive producer of the documentary. “The work of the dedicated medical staff and the unbreakable spirit of these Haitian young people – in circumstances most of us can’t imagine – are truly inspiring.”
After the disaster, the Healing Haiti’s Children initiative offered free prosthetics and rehabilitation to every injured child that needed the care. The program, a result of a partnership of the Knights of Columbus and the University of Miami’s Project Medishare for Haiti, has helped more than 1,000 children received medical care.
Another result of the program also featured in the film was a soccer team comprised of many children who endured amputations. They named their team Zaryen, after a tarantula known for being able to survive and thrive even after losing a limb. In a country where disability is often seen as a sign of divinely appointed punishment, the soccer team’s story is helping to change that perception.
“In Haiti, there has long been a stigma about disabled people,” explained Dr. Robert Gailey, rehabilitation coordinator for Project Medishare in Port-au-Prince. “The traditional thinking was that disability somehow reflected a negative supernatural judgment on the person. This rehab program, and the soccer team, has really changed that way of thinking.”
The healthcare initiative now has a permanent rehabilitation clinic in Haiti that is increasingly staffed by locals in order to maintain a sustainable program that continues helping children.
“We're still here…one of the few prosthetic facilities that are still going,” says prosthetist Adam Finnieston in the documentary. “That was our mission goal from the beginning, to build a sustainable facility…training locals.”
So far the Knights of Columbus have provided more than $1.5 million in funding for the prosthetics program. One of the most active charitable organizations in the United States, the Knights of Columbus last year donated more than $170 million and 70 million hours of service.
The film will be shown at the Portland film festival on Sat., Aug. 30 at 2:30 p.m. at Cinema 21.
FRONT ROYAL, VA., August 28 (CNA) .- The Pope’s support of international action against attacks by the Islamic State should be met with United Nations intervention, one Catholic professor said.
“I think Pope Francis, in his own opinion, he clearly called for the United Nations to take the lead,” Christendom College history professor Brendan McGuire told CNA. “And generally this is true in terms of the orientation of the Papacy’s attitude toward international affairs, they would rather see things handled by international bodies than by individual nations.”
U.S. President Barack Obama is weighing options as the Islamic State – a terrorist group also known as ISIS – continues sweeping though Iraq and Syria, targeting religious minorities including Christians and demanding that they convert to Islam, pay a significant tax, or die. More than 1 million Iraqis are estimated to have fled their homes, seeking shelter from ISIS violence as refugees.
In response to the crisis, Pope Francis told a group of journalists Aug.18, “In these cases where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I don’t say ‘to bomb’ or ‘make war,’ (but) ‘stop it’…One single nation cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor.”
McGuire commented on the Pope’s words, saying they refer to an international intervention.
“He clarified that he wasn’t endorsing any particular means of stopping the aggressor at this point, but he was endorsing the principle that one can and also should stop aggressors,” McGuire said.
There are “caveats,” he added.
“There are unintended consequences that have to be taken into account. You can’t be allowed to let it turn into a war of imperial conquest or a war advancing one nation’s interests at the expense of peace or at the expense of human beings there.”
“The Pope’s words were very carefully chosen,” McGuire suggested, because he “has to be very, very careful about being seen to endorse war.”
In addition, he said, the Pope does not want to alienate entities in the region by seeming to “advance American imperial ambitions and not so much the cost of peace.”
Although the Pope wants an international coalition, one country could potentially wage a “just war” McGuire explained, but “they would have to be very careful to take into account all of the unintended consequences that would factor into a decision to go to war.”
If the U.S. were to intervene, it would enter an extremely complicated situation, McGuire stated. “I think it’s one of these situations where anyone who claims to have an easy answer just doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation.”
For instance, military action could bring unintended consequences with it. The rise of ISIS is itself an “unintended consequence” of past U.S. wars against the regime of Saddam Hussein and the “shadow war” aiding Syrian rebels, McGuire said.
“ISIS emerged from that context, it emerged from American foreign policy in the Middle East, destabilizing pragmatic regimes and destabilizing more secular regimes, and shaking the grip of those dictatorial regimes and thus creating a power vacuum,” he said, warning that the U.S. must not create another “power vacuum” if it destroys ISIS.
The U.S. should not fight the war alone, he said, but finding allies is no easy task.
“If we were to act without cooperating with other powers in the region, we would potentially lose the sympathy of some of those essential partners, partners in the region that would be essential to establishing a just peace there,” the professor said.
He explained that “building a coalition to solve this problem is going to be a very serious problem for the U.S.” because the powers in the region that oppose ISIS also oppose each other.
“For example, Turkey and Iran have conflicting interests. The Gulf States and the Assad regime have conflicting interests,” McGuire continued. If the U.S. were to work with the Iraqi government, which is perceived as “sectarian Shiite,” that could drive many Sunnis into the hands of ISIS.
“It has to be working with other people in the region, and finding a way to work with people that we’re not used to working with,” McGuire suggested of any potential U.S. involvement.
OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLA., August 28 (CNA/EWTN News) .- A lawyer who helped recover a stolen Host that organizers of an Oklahoma City black mass intended to desecrate said that the Church’s legal victory could have far-reaching effects.
“I don’t think we’re going to see Satanists doing this again, or they’ll going to understand we’re going to come after them, anywhere, any time this happens,” attorney Michael W. Caspino of the Irvine, Calif.-based law firm Busch & Caspino told CNA Aug. 27.
“We’ve now gutted the significance of their black mass. Now it’s really just a bad show with bad actors,” Caspino said.
The occult group Dakhma of Angra Mainyu scheduled a black mass at the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall Sept. 21. A black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony that invokes Satan and mocks the Catholic Mass. It involves the desecration of the Eucharist, generally by stealing a consecrated Host from a Catholic church and using it in a profane, sexual ritual.
The event organizer, Adam Daniels, claimed to have in his possession a Host mailed to him by a friend that he believed had been consecrated at a Catholic Mass.
Caspino’s law firm filed suit against the event organizer in Oklahoma District Court Aug. 20 on behalf of Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley, on the grounds that the Host was stolen property.
An attorney representing Daniels gave the reputed consecrated Host to a priest of the Oklahoma City archdiocese on Aug. 21. The organizers still intend to simulate a black mass, but without the use of a consecrated Host.
Caspino said the primary goal of the lawsuit was not to stop the event but to “get our Blessed Sacrament back and not let them defile it.”
While U.S. laws do not recognize Catholic belief, Caspino pointed out that the laws do recognize property rights. A judge issued a temporary restraining order against the black mass organizers on the grounds the lawsuit “had a likelihood of success,” the attorney explained.
“We live in a society under our Constitution that allows people to do dumb things. And now they’re going to do something dumb. I don’t support it, I think it’s terrible, but we don’t really have much as far as legal means to stop them from doing this crazy show.
“The great thing is that we got the Eucharist back and the significance of the show is now gone.”
The attorney also praised Archbishop Coakley’s leadership in seeking to halt the black mass.
“This is a real courageous stand.”
Archbishop Coakley on Aug. 21 expressed relief at the return of the Host, but warned that the event poses “spiritual danger” to all who are involved in it.
Caspino stressed the need to speak out against events like the black mass.
“Every Catholic out there, every good Christian out there, we need to stare down the devil. We need to stand up to the devil. The devil is weak when you stare him down. That’s what we did here. We stared down the devil, and the devil blinked.”
“In your daily life, in everything you do, we’ve got to stare down the devil.”
Caspino added that he was “very disappointed” in the management of the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall.
An official with the music hall told CNA in July that because the hall is a city-run facility, it must operate in a position of “neutrality” and must be willing to host any event “as long as it was not hosting something specifically illegal in nature.”
Caspino said there is “a real lack of leadership” at the event venue.
“It’s one thing to allow different religions to come in and celebrate their religion. It’s a whole different thing to allow a group to come in that seeks to desecrate and insult another religion,” he said.
“We should be having more positive things going on on public property and not such negative things.”
He added that the music hall management ignored its own rules against “hatefulness” and “violations of community standards.”
“There are things out there that are legal, but are tasteless and violate community standards. They should have stopped (the black mass) just based on that. Not everything that’s legal is right,” he said. “The law doesn’t cover every single situation out there. We have to use common sense.”
Caspino said it is common sense not to host an event that has “no redeeming value other than to insult other people and desecrate religious institutions.”
“We try to be a country that gives people freedoms to go ahead and do things,” he said. “But there are boundaries to that too. We should probably use a little bit more common sense than to say we’re just going to allow whatever is legal.”
WASHINGTON D.C., August 28 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The U.S. bishops are encouraging commemorations of the 50th anniversary of milestones in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, saying they should inspire further work for the common good.
“The Civil Rights Era was an important time in the history of our country,” Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., said Aug. 25. “In constructive ways, many priests, religious sisters, religious brothers and lay Catholic faithful were involved in the struggle for civil rights.”
“Recalling the Catholic Church’s past participation in these important historic moments serves to challenge the faithful to work constructively today to enhance the common good for people of all races and ethnicities,” said the bishop, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on African-American Affairs.
Over the next year, the bishops’ subcommittee will remember the Mississippi Freedom Summer advocacy campaign of June-August 1964, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the civil rights march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery held in March 1965, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The bishops’ subcommittee will release blog posts and video clips, as well as suggest practical ideas to engage the Catholic community during the commemorations at the parish, school, and small group levels.
Prayer and catechetical resources, as well as a calendar of diocesan events, will also be provided, the U.S. bishops’ conference said.
The resources aim to promote dialogue through examining how the Civil Rights Movement influenced contemporary multicultural relations. The effort will help people consider the movement’s historical legacy and will help highlight the role the Catholic Church and Catholic leaders played in it.
Reflections on Catholic social teaching should also play a role in the commemorations, Bishop Fabre said.
“Reflecting upon the Church’s social teachings from the perspective of the history of civil rights is an opportunity to become more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ as we strive to live these social teachings today and share them with others,” he said.
The resources may be accessed at the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Issues and Action section’s Cultural Diversity subsection.
Blog posts commemorating the civil rights anniversaries will be posted at usccbmedia.blogspot.com.
RIMINI, ITALY, August 28 (CNA) .- An Italian couple celebrating their 25th anniversary of marriage by volunteering at the Rimini Meeting, a major Catholic event, aimed to reflect the beauty of their faith and to thank God for their love.
“I decided with my husband and my children to come here to the Communion and Liberation annual meeting in Rimini to celebrate my 25th anniversary because we want to live this experience of beauty and happiness which we have been through all of our life,” Mrs. Daniela Burgio shared with CNA Aug. 25.
The Burgio family hails from Catania, Sicily. Mrs. and Mr. Burgio have five children. Two of them are now studying and living in Milan.
“My husband and I met 33 years ago, at a birthday party. I wasn’t even a believer, but I was surprised to see that all the people taking part in that party were very happy. I found out it was because of their common path, and I joined that path,” Daniela Burgio said.
All of the couple’s children are part of Communion and Liberation, but they have not precisely followed their parents’ footsteps.
Luca Burgio, 24, confessed that he “never joined Communion and Liberation while he was living with his parents in Catania,” but he did when he moved to Milan.
“I found there the kind of friendship I was looking for. I remember that, when I was six and I used to go on vacation with my family and family friends, I was surprised by the way my father got along with his friends, and I thought I wanted the same friendship. This friendship I found in Communion and Liberation,” Luca explained.
Mrs. Burgio said that volunteering with all of her children is “a really nice feeling.”
“They have not been forced to be part of this experience, they have been free to make their own experience. I never wanted to force my children to do anything, as I haven’t been forced.”
“It was fascinating how all of them took our footsteps,” she added.
The Burgio family is among the 2,940 volunteers at the meeting in Rimini. They collaborate in several activities: building and preparing the areas for gatherings; entertaining kids; and creating and leading team activities.
“Each of us is serving according to his peculiar skills,” said Mrs. Burgio.
The 35th edition of Communion and Liberation’s “Meeting of Friendship among People” is taking place in Rimini Aug. 24-30.
The main theme of the meeting was, “Toward the peripheries of the world and existence: Destiny has not left man alone.”
The meeting included more than 200 speakers, including ministers of the Italian government and entrepreneurs as well as bishops and Vatican diplomats.
Mrs. Burgio focuses on the people and the spirit of the meeting, more than the speakers.
“When you take part in this experience, sharing the same experience with many people, you really feel like part of a people,” she commented.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, August 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- A former Korean ambassador to the Holy See spoke of the effects of Pope Francis' recent visit to South Korea, saying that all of Asia now feels a long-term challenge to imitate his humble ways.
“All the media in Korea are already speaking of 'Francis syndrome,'” former ambassador Thomas Han told CNA Aug. 26.
“The Korean people, having been deeply impressed by Pope Francis' person and his lifestyle, seriously reflect upon the meaning of their lives and seek to see the things in life that really matter.”
Han explained that leaders “at every level of society” now feel an “unspoken pressure to make their own the leadership style the Korean people have witnessed in Pope Francis.”
“Therefore, it is safe to say that such 'Francis syndrome' will surely serve as a momentum for the Koreans to promote the culture of love, thereby contributing to authentic humanization of the Korean Peninsula in the long term.”
Pope Francis traveled to Seoul, South Korea Aug. 14-18, where he met with youth participating in the 6th Asian Youth Day, as well as with government officials, local Church leaders and heads of other faith traditions.
Marking the first time a Roman Pontiff has visited the peninsula since John Paul II went in 1989, the voyage has had an impact on the entire Asian continent, particularly the youth, who were touched by the Pope's heart-to-heart way of communicating, and those affected by the Sewol ferry disaster that happened earlier this spring.
With the presence of Pope Francis in their midst, Koreans “were excited to verify what they had heard about him through the media,” Han observed.
“In a word, Pope Francis has at last satisfied their quenchless thirst for true leadership. His coherence between words and actions, his simple lifestyle, his humility, the way he embraced the poor, the disabled, the outcasts greatly impressed them.”
It is rumored that following the Pope's visit, many in Korea are now beginning to purchase the compact Kia Soul he chose to pick him up from the airport, following his request to have the smallest car possible.
As the smallest car in Korea, the vehicle was considered unsuitable for such a globally significant figure, and left many chuckling when they saw the pontiff drive away in the boxy car.
What the Korean people saw in the Pope was “a witness to hope,” the former ambassador explained. “The hope that with the leadership of Pope Francis the world can be made a better place to live in.”
Speaking on the particular impact Pope Francis made on the Asian youth, Han noted that they viewed him as the Good Shepherd who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.”
“They have been excited to be with Pope Francis who rekindled the very special love that had been displayed by Christ toward the young man in the Gospel” and who “launched them as leading actors in humanization and evangelization of society.”
Drawing attention to how the Asian continent currently is home to over 60 percent of the world’s population, Han noted that along with this number come “flagrant inequalities” both in terms of one’s possessions, as well as in the exercise of political power.
“More than half of the 900 million absolute poor in the world who survive on less than $1.25 a day are in Asia,” he stated, observing also how “Women experience a very low level of gender equality in the world” and “the deprivation of the right to life of the unborn child is widespread.”
Going on, Han observed that many “are denied the right to religious freedom” and that “cultural and religious diversity sometimes leads even to animosity and conflict between peoples.” He also pointed out current threats to peace, including increasing militarization and continuous environmental pollution.
“It is thus timely for Pope Francis to come to encourage the Catholic Church in Asia to strengthen its efforts to humanize and evangelize the Asian continent facing such realities,” he said.
Noting the significance of choosing Korea for his first trip to Asia, the former ambassador explained that Pope Francis’ presence in a country suffering division for 70 years signifies that he came “to Korea and to Asia as Pontiff, that is, as a builder of bridges with God and between peoples.”
He came “as apostle of true peace, to encourage the Catholics and all the other Asians to dialogue and work together to overcome all the inhuman situations that occur on the Continent to build a more equitable society, a more stable peace in the world.”
In this context, Pope Francis’ visit represents “a challenge to Korea as a nation and the Catholic Church therein to assume a greater role in pursuing authentic human development of peoples in Asia as well as in the Korean Peninsula,” Han observed.
“Both Korea and the Catholic Church well deserve to play such a role and (are) ready to embrace such a challenge,” he said. “The Pope’s visit will stimulate the ongoing renewal of the Catholic Church’s determination to take the lead in evangelization of Asia as well as the Korean Peninsula.”
At the same time, he continued, it will serve “as an effective catalyst to Korea’s constant willingness to assume its own responsibility for the humanization of Asia as well as the Korean Peninsula by promoting the culture of love, justice and peace.”
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, August 28 (CNA) .- A national New Evangelization conference in Australia last week worked to reinforce parishes as faith communities actively seeking to grow in discipleship.
“It is essential for the parish to re-orient toward reaching those who are not active in the life of the Church,” said Fr. Michael White, one of the keynote speakers at the event, entitled PROCLAIM 2014.
Fr. White is the pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., which has nearly tripled its weekend attendance from 1,400 to more than 4,000 during his tenure. Commitment to the mission of the Church has also grown within the parish, as evidenced by the significant increase of giving and service in ministry.
He addressed participants at the conference along with Tom Corcoran, who is the associate to the pastor at the Church of the Nativity, responsible for weekend message development, strategic planning, and staff development.
“The key elements to rebuilding the parish are focusing on unchurched people, prioritizing the weekend experience and moving Church people to action,” Corcoran said.
Together, Fr. White and Corcoran co-authored the book, “Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter.” They drew from its contents, based on their own experience revitalizing a parish, in their conference talks.
Among the topics they addressed were the need to live out the Church’s missionary calling in order to transform parish life, and practical ways to encourage parishioners to take a more active role, contributing and assuming responsibility for sharing their own faith.
The key message for the Church is to call parishioners “to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ,” Fr. White told more than 500 delegates at the event.
The PROCLAIM 2014 symposium, held Aug. 21- 23 in Chatswood – a business district north of Sydney – was organized by the National Office for Evangelization, which has its mandate from the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The event drew from Pope Francis’ encyclical “Evangelii Gaudium” and focused on the theme, “Living the Joy of the Gospel in Parishes.”
Over the three-day conference, various workshops addressed topics including how to be an authentic welcoming community, disability and inclusion, understanding youth evangelization, explaining your faith without raising your voice, and how a parish can support the sexually broken.
Some speakers discussed practical questions regarding the recruitment, training, and education of catechists and other key contributors in the mission of the parish.
Dr. Ruth Powell, director of the National Church Life Survey Research in Australia, was joined by three panelists from the Anglican, Baptist and Pentecostal churches in her address, “Finding a way Forward,” which presented trends in evangelization across all denominations.
Powell, who is also an associate professor at the Australian Catholic University, pointed to statistics indicating that only 52 percent of Mass-attending Catholics feel at ease sharing their faith. Another 15 percent say they are looking for opportunities to do so.
Highlighting that the average Catholic newcomer is a 46-year-old woman who is married and university educated, looking for something missing in her life, Powell challenged conference participants to consider how Catholics can reach out to newcomers.
She also called attendees to think about how to support mothers and fathers in the task of evangelization.
Bishop Peter Ingham of Wollongong, who chairs the Australian Catholic Bishops’ evangelization commission, described the conference as “an incredible opportunity for bishops, priests and parishioners to understand the successes and challenges in parish life.”
“PROCLAIM 2014 is about helping Catholics respond to the call to the new evangelization, helping to build our parishes as faith communities full of disciples and missionary in outlook,” he said.
ERBIL, IRAQ, August 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Christians and other religious minorities who have fled areas in Iraq that have fallen under Islamic State control are now helping one another to survive as refugees, an aid worker said.
“They themselves have been displaced and they’re going around caring for those who are in need, who are in situations like they are,” Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern regional manager for the Middle East, told CNA Aug. 27.
Last week, Daniels was in Iraq, where it is estimated that more than 1 million people have fled from their homes amid the invasion of the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS. The militant group has taken control of numerous cities and ordered Christians and other religious minorities to convert, pay a tax known as a jizya, or be killed.
The fleeing Iraqis – including Christians and other religious minorities – have sought refuge in other areas, such as the northern city of Erbil.
Daniels said that while the situation is desperate, there is much hope in the way religious communities and refugees are working to improve life there.
“Probably one of the most striking impressions was just the activeness of the local churches,” he said. “From morning to night they’re out there providing aid, providing relief and actually, a lot of the man power, for the groups we were working with by people who themselves have been displaced.”
Aid groups and local churches are working to provide support, but humanitarian needs are “still very, very great.”
Some refugees hope that international security forces will help create a safe haven for Christians and other religious minorities, while others are just trying to grasp the reality that they will most likely never return to their homes.
“There’s really a feeling of not knowing what to do,” Daniels said.
Schools, parks and even unfinished shopping centers have been transformed into temporary housing, sometimes sheltering as many as 700 people. In what used to be a single kindergarten classroom, 25 families – roughly 100 people – have taken up residence, he said.
In one of the make-shift homes in an old school, Daniels described how he met a mother and her 15-day-old baby on one floor and a 95-year-old woman who fled with three generations of her family on another.
“That was just a really striking portrait of the level of people who have been affected by this that have now left their homes and really been forced to leave with basically nothing more, in many cases, than the clothes on their backs,” he said. “Their lives have been turned upside down by this.”
The most immediate need for the refugees in Erbil is basic humanitarian aid, which International Christian Concern and other groups have been giving in the form of food, clean drinking water, mattresses and medical attention. However, with so many refugees, much more aid is needed than is being provided at this time.
“You treat a few and there’s a dozen more that you just don’t have time or resources to get to,” Daniels said.
He also noted that the refugees will soon face a new challenge. Temperatures in Erbil have been averaging 110°F, but with winter just a few months away, the cold will pose a large threat for those living outside.
Those who are able to help can do so by donating to humanitarian aid groups and charities as well as contacting their governments to encourage them to address the situation.
“It seems obvious that the Kurdish government (and) the Baghdad government on their own are not going to be able to deal with the security threat posed by ISIS as well as the humanitarian response,” he said. “So they are going to need very clear leadership from outside governments.”
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