Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Christians Sheltering Muslims Fleeing Israeli Bombings

TULKAREM, WEST BANK - SEPTEMBER 17:  Palestinian Christian Samir Mitri carries a damaged golden crucifix as he cleans religious items in the burnt-out Greek-Orthodox church of Mar Gerias September 17, 2006 in the predominantly Muslim town of Tulkarem in the West Bank. The stone church, which was built 170 years ago, was gutted by a fire as a wave of Muslim anger over comments by Pope Benedict XVI on Islam grew throughout the Palestinian areas and the Muslim world. The early morning fire, one of two on Sunday in the West Bank, followed attacks on five churches in the West Bank and Gaza a day before on Saturday September 16, 2006.  (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)  

Tristyn Bloom

An ancient Orthodox Christian church in Gaza has been sheltering Muslims fleeing Israeli shelling and bombings, Reuters reports.
The Church of St. Porphyrios, named for the fifth century bishop who Christianized the then-pagan city of Gaza, has been working with the mosque next door to house over 1,000 Muslims.
“People started coming in on Sunday, more and more people, so we couldn’t even think about holding our Sunday service,” Archbishop Alexios told The Guardian.
According to the BBC, more than 600 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8. The Muslims taking shelter in the church fled from nearby Shejaiya, which the Israeli government announced its intentions to strike last week. The attack began early Sunday morning and became the deadliest day of the operation. (RELATED: Obama Pressures Israel To Curb Anti-Tunnel Defense)
The Israel Defense Forces released a statement Sunday, saying “Hamas uses the residential neighborhood of Shejaiya as a fortress for its weapons, rockets, tunnels and command centers. Hamas exploits the neighborhood’s residents as human shields for its terrorist activity. … In just 13 days, Hamas has fired over 140 rockets from Shejaiya into Israel.” (RELATED: Kerry Calls Israeli Offensive ‘Helluva Pinpoint Operation’)
“At the beginning there were 600 people and today they became a thousand – mostly children and women,” said the archbishop. “Some of those children are a week old.”
The church, along with four others in the area, was attacked in 2006 after some Muslims took offense to a lecture in which Pope Benedict quoted negative characterizations of Islam from a 15th century text. While Pope Benedict was the head of the Catholic Church at the time, only two of the five churches attacked were Catholic.
Now the church finds itself subject to Israeli shelling. ”The shrapnel even came into the monastery and destroyed our water tanks,” Alexios said. “The shelling was very strong and the children were crying. … I don’t believe they intended to attack the church, but we are only a kilometer from Shejaiya and we are in Zeitoun, so the shells have been coming at us from both sides.”
The church cemetery and a nearby Protestant school were also shelled.
“Crime is on the rise,” said Catholic priest Fr. Jorge Hernandez, pastor of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza. “Little children are getting sick from fear, stress, shockwaves and the continuous noise. Sunday, we were able to celebrate holy Mass, thank God, with seven nuns and five brave men. … There are some people who have thanked us for our presence here. They tell us every once in a while: ‘You are not going to abandon us, are you?’”

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Greek Orthodox church in Gaza shelters Muslims fleeing war

GAZA Tue Jul 22, 2014 11:16am EDT
(Reuters) - About 1,000 Palestinian Muslims fleeing Israeli shells devastating their Gaza neighborhood have found shelter in a building they otherwise would rarely if ever enter, the city's 12th-century Greek Orthodox Church.
Despite its thick walls dating back to the Crusades, the Church of Saint Porphyrius was still not a very safe haven. Shortly after they arrived, Israeli aircraft bombed a nearby field, spraying shrapnel on the church and damaging graves.
But children from the Shejaia district, where some 72 Palestinians - many of them women and children - were killed during fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants on Sunday, were busy playing football in the yard on Tuesday.
Their mothers watched on mattresses and plastic chairs provided by the church, along with food, blankets and toys.
"We have opened the church in order to help people. This is the duty of the church and we are doing all we can to help them," Archbishop Alexios told Reuters as the sounds of small children echoed outside his office at the church.
"At the beginning there were 600 people and today they became a thousand - mostly children and women. Some of those children are a week old," said the head of Gaza's Greek Orthodox minority, the largest of the Christian communities here.
Only about 1,400 Christians - Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants - live among the 1.8 million Muslims, meaning they make up 0.08 percent of the population in the crowded Gaza Strip dominated by Hamas, an Islamist group.
Their life as a religious minority has not always been easy
When the then Pope Benedict quoted a medieval scholar describing Islam as violent and irrational in 2006, unknown militants attacked five churches in Palestinian areas, including Saint Porphyrius - even though it is Orthodox, not Catholic.
Palestinian officials, including from Hamas, denounced that violence and it was not repeated. It all seemed far away now as Gazans reached out to help neighbors who have lost their homes in the two-week Israeli offensive.
"The mosque nearby and the neighbors of the church are all helping. We are still in need of mattresses, blankets, food and most important is petrol, as we suffer blackouts. If there is no electricity we cannot have water also," said the archbishop.
Since the start of the offensive, more than 100,000 Palestinians – about 6 per cent of Gaza's entire population - have sought shelter with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), crowding into 70 schools, the organization said.
Refugees streaming from Shejaia in the eastern part of Gaza City to the church in the southwestern area of al-Zaytun said they did not know where else they could go now.
"We have escaped from our houses and came here and they bombed the church. Where should we go? Let them tell us where we should go," insisted Jawaher Sukkar, who fled with her children.
Accusing Israel of targeting civilians, she said: "The shells chased us as we ran ... can you imagine, a boy falling the ground and his mother cannot stop to pick him up?"
One possible reason for the shelling close to the church is that Israel's military believes militants have used cemeteries to launch rockets fired at its cities and to hide weaponry.
Despite the overcrowding and danger, Alexios said there has been some joy in the church in the midst of tragedy.
"Yesterday, a woman gave birth to a baby, a new life. Man should be hopeful.. There is death but also there is life too," he said with a smile.

Gaza’s Christians and life under the bombs

Bombings on Gaza

The pastor of the Holy Family Church in Gaza, Fr. Jorge Hernandez describes the daily life of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Three missiles landed near the church where Mother Teresa’s nuns have sought shelter along with a group of disabled children

“We were also asked – as were the residents of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia - to evacuate our homes immediately. And like everyone else, we are asking ourselves where we can go. Gaza is small. Everything is close by. There is no safe haven or neutral place that can shelter us. Where do we go?”

From the Latin parish of the Holy Family in Gaza, Fr. Jorge Hernandez, a member of the Institute of the Incarnate Word describes the reality his community is experiencing. He is also standing under the rain of bombs falling down from the sky onto the Strip and this is not the first time. The Argentinean priest has been leading the Gaza Strip’s small Catholic community – just 200 faithful in a land that is home to just under 2000 Christians in total - for several years. They have shared the all the suffering of a population that remains isolated inside an area that barely measures 360 km² but is inhabited by 1,8 million people.

On Wednesday afternoon – around about the same time as four children were being killed by an Israeli missile which struck a beach – fear enveloped the Holy Family Church as well: three missiles fell very close to the parish buildings, so yesterday it was decided that the three nuns from the same order who are working with Fr. Hernandez would return to Bethlehem. Because they are foreign, they were able to leave the Strip during the brief ceasefire the UN managed to obtain on humanitarian grounds.  But the pastor has stayed put, along with the Mother Teresa nuns who moved in with a group of disabled children. Their institute is also located in an area affected by raids so they thought the Holy Family Church was a safer place to be.

In this period of huge turmoil, Fr. Hernandez has been keeping in touch with the outside world by posting letters on the Institute of the Incarnate Word’s Facebook page. These letters describe the daily lives of his parishioners who face the constant threat of bombs. “As I was preparing my sermon for mass, I asked myself: what can I tell these people? How do I comfort them? What good word can I throw in? It’s so hard. And then I thought: will anyone come? Today, thank God, I was able to celebrate Sunday mass with seven courageous nuns and four courageous men. Given the circumstances, that gave us some reason for some joy.” 

“One Christian family felt the effects of a bomb which fell on a house near theirs. Broken windows, smoke, screams, chaos: this was the tragic consequence they experienced. And now young children are starting to get sick from the fear, the stress, the shock waves caused by detonations and the constant noise. Their parents are really doing all that they can to distract them and ensure that they are not traumatized by this brutal violence: every time there’s “noise”, they play at jumping around, they dance or hug the children trying to cover their ears.”

In his letters, Fr. Hernandez says the war was not unexpected. “People had expected this military escalation for some time now and it could last a long time. The only thing that surprised us was that the local authorities showed resistance on a larger scale and were better prepared than in other wars. The fact that Hamas attacked Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was no small matter,” he explained. The priest also said he feared that the war would lead to Islamic fundamentalists striking out against Christians: “Judging by what is going on elsewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “This is partly why the strength Christians in Gaza have shown is admirable. They know only too well now that their fate lies in God’s hands.”

The Last Day Of Iraqi Christians In Mosul

  • Iraqi Christians Of Mosul-July 19, 2014-01
    An Iraqi Christian family fleeing the violence in the city of Mosul arrives at the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh Saturday. Reuters/Stringer
  • Iraqi Christians Of Mosul-July 19, 2014-02
    Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the city of Mosul pray at the Mar Afram church in the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh Saturday. Reuters/Stringer
  • Iraqi Christians Of Mosul-July 19, 2014-03
    An Iraqi Christian woman fleeing the violence in the city of Mosul prays at the Mar Afram church in the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh Saturday. Reuters/Stringer
  • Iraqi Christians Of Mosul-July 19, 2014-04
    Iraqi Christian families fleeing the violence in the city of Mosul arrive in the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh Saturday. Reuters/Stringer
  • Iraqi Christians Of Mosul-July 19, 2014-05
    Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the city of Mosul pray at the Mar Afram church in the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh Saturday. Reuters/Stringer
  • Iraqi Christians Of Mosul-July 19, 2014-06
    An Iraqi Christian woman fleeing the violence in the city of Mosul prays at the Mar Afram church in the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh Saturday. Reuters/Stringer
  • Iraqi Christians Of Mosul-July 19, 2014-07
    An Iraqi Christian family fleeing the violence in the city of Mosul arrives in the town of Qaraqush in the province of Nineveh Saturday. Reuters/Stringer
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The exodus of Iraqi Christians in Mosul accelerated after rebels aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, demanded this week that the few remaining members of the city’s religious minority convert to Islam, pay religious levies called jizyas or prepare for death by a deadline set for Saturday afternoon.
Members of the Sunni Muslim extremist group reportedly made their threats Thursday night, most publicly through mosque loudspeakers and via cars on the streets of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the capital of the Nineveh province in the northern reaches of the country.
Since capturing Mosul June 10, ISIS has been kidnapping and killing members of ethnic and religious minorities in and around the city, Human Rights Watch said Saturday. The group has kidnapped at least 200 Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis, killing at least 11 of them, the New York-based watchdog organization said.
Mosul was once among Iraq’s most diverse cities, both ethnically and religiously. However, multiple attacks on Christians since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein resulted in cuts of its once-sizeable Christian population, mainly in the Assyrian and Chaldean denominations, as Reuters reported.
A Roman Catholic bishop of Mosul told the news agency that 150 Christian families had left the city in recent days and that church leaders had advised the few families who wanted to negotiate with ISIS militants that they should also flee for their own safety.
“We have lived in this city and we have had a civilization for thousands of years -- and suddenly some strangers came and expelled us from our homes,” said one woman in her 60s who fled on Friday for Hamdaniya, a mainly Christian town southeast of Mosul.
“The Islamic State stopped my relatives at a checkpoint when they were fleeing and when they found out they were Christians, they took everything they were carrying, including their mobile phones,” said one man who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Saturday may or may not have been the last day of Iraqi Christians in Mosul, but it appeared so, based on the photographs presented here.

ISIS Making Good on Promise to Kill Christians

by OCP on JULY 22, 2014
By Jennifer Jensen
SAN DIEGO — The radical Islamic group ISIS is making good on its threats to kill Iraqi Christians who refuse to convert.
The crisis is closely being followed by San Diego’s Chaldean community, which is the second largest population of Iraqi Christians in the United States.
Local Chaldean leader Mark Arabo says what is happening in Iraq right now is truly a living nightmare.
“It’s literally the worst it’s ever been, not just for Chaldeans but for Christianity for the entire region,” said Arabo, who is president of the Neighborhood Market Association.
The violence in Iraq has already displaced more than a million Iraqis of many faiths. Arabo explains that families’ homes are being marked.
“This is their red stamp right here, that they are marking Christian homes,” he said as he pointed to a photo from Iraq. “They are basically saying, ‘We know who you are and when the holy month of Ramadan is over, your lives are in our hands.’”
Arabo says it is an all-too familiar reminder of what was done during the Holocaust, when Star of David symbols were painted on homes and businesses of Jewish people during the Nazi regime in Germany.
“This is a global humanitarian crisis and a Christian Holocaust is in our midst,” Arabo added.
Fighters of the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria — or ISIS — have swept across Northern Iraq from Syria, leaving the red stamps and notes on doorsteps in their quest to take over Iraq.
“They are saying you need to convert to Islam, pay a fee or leave,” said Arabo.
Or else many are facing mutilation, rape or beheading.
“We have to make sure we don’t turn a blind eye to another Holocaust,” said Arabo.
© 2014 Assyrian International News Agency.