Dust and mud brick houses everywhere – as far as the eye can see. The houses are indistinguishable in color from the ground on which they stand. Trees are few and far between.
In the wake of a June 26 terrorist attack on tourists in Tunisia which killed 38 people, one of the country’s leading Catholic priests insisted that the majority of Tunisians are not extremists.
“At night we often hear gunfire,” says Father Steven, a priest in Alqosh, Iraq.
“The Church in Egypt has been strengthened by the murder of our brothers in Libya.” Such was the reaction of Coptic Catholic Bishop Youssef Aboul-Kheir of Sohag to the beheading of 21 Orthodox Coptic men in Libya by Islamic State affiliates.
“Fortunately, the battles are over for now. There was fierce fighting in Al Nabek all through Advent. No one was able to flee. The people were trapped. Peace was then finally restored in the week before Christmas. But you never know.”
“Most of them were students at the university, young people who had not left the city. So what sort of message does this attack send out now? I believe they were deliberately targeted.”
In 2014, more than 120,000 Christians in Iraq, among them dozens of priests and religious, had to flee from the Islamic State. Many have found refuge in the autonomous Kurdish regions of Iraq after having lost everything, among them Sister Sanaa Hana.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you:” Suheila, an elderly Christian woman from Mosul was effusive in expressing her gratitude to a group of European visitors. "May God make things easy for you in your lives."
The Catholic Church in the Central African Republic continues to work for peace and reconciliation within the country, with its leading bishop visiting and reaching out to displaced Muslims.
In Tunisia, public expressions of Christianity are against the law and the government frowns on conversions. But compared to the situation of the Church in other Muslim nations, circumstances in the North African country are tolerable.
Sister Maria of Nazareth has committed herself to an extraordinary mission. The Argentine nun from the Institute of the Incarnate Word has been living in Aleppo, Syria, for the past two months, ministering to a traumatized Christian community in the former million-strong metropolis in the north of the country, which has suffered some of the worst violence of the three year-old civil war.