“I can see their faces, I could remember everything.”
(Father Jeff Nadua to Rappler)
In an interview with Rappler, this was how Father Jeff Nadua, a priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, described his reaction towards the deadly bombing incident which occurred during the Sunday Mass of January 27, 2019. Father Nadua, however, was not in the premises of the church. The mass was officiated by Father Ricky Bacolcol.
The cathedral was simultaneously blasted with two improvised explosive devices (IED), with approximately 100 victims in the vicinity. It was at the Second Reading when the first IED was detonated inside. According to MindaNews, the bomb went off from the “right side fronting the altar, at the back portion”. Police and military men stationed nearby hurried for rescue. Civilians, on the other hand, scrambled for safety. But then, another unthinkable horror happened.
A twin IED exploded outside.
“Nakita ko may mga matatanda na nandoon sa lupa na humihingi ng tulong sa amin. Gusto ko sana kunin ‘yung isang matanda noon. Eh, pumutok na. Tumilapon na rin ako doon.” [The elderly were ducked down on the ground, asking for help. I wanted to save them, get one of them, but there was a sudden explosion. I was thrown back by the impact.]
(Corporal Ruel Diaz to GMA News)
Catching them off guard, 5 soldiers died in an instant. It was believed that the second IED was placed in a utility box of a parked motorcycle just beside the cathedral. Both bombs were confirmed to be electronically-controlled through a mobile device from a remote area. The official casualty count of the Armed Forces of the Philippines – Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WESTMINCOM) reached about 21 deaths and approximately 100 injured.
Renewed by Faith: Jolo Cathedral Restored After Twin Bombing.
History of Devastation
The twin blasts left the interior of the church in shambles. The pews were scattered and pieces of shrapnel flew everywhere. The once ocean-hued windows of the cathedral became broken glass.
The Sunday explosion, however, wasn’t the first. Throughout the previous decade, the cathedral, and its surrounding area, has been the target of many extremist attacks.
In 2000, a bomb was thrown outside the church. Six years later, a blast occurred in the ground floor of a two-storey commercial building near the cathedral. Investigations later revealed that the cathedral has been the original target of the explosion, with the culprits changing their plans at the last minute.
Three explosions rocked Jolo in 2009. In July, about 6 civilians were killed when an IED exploded a hundred meters away from the church. The October explosion involved a grenade blast which left damaged properties. A New Year’s Eve blast also occurred in the same year, killing one soldier. From 2010-2013, a series of four explosions were tallied.
Considered the worst and the deadliest one yet, the 2019 twin blasts was the first to happen inside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral.
Fr. Jeff Nadua, in his interview with News5, stressed that the attack was directed to the community and is clearly an “attack against our faith”. However, he also emphasized with Zenit that “we need to help our Christians recover from this trauma and see all this in the eyes of faith. Then we can focus our energies on rebuilding the structure which is heavily damaged by the twin bombing.”
Aid to the Church in Need continues its Appeal for Prayer to the public.
And indeed, the rebuilding and the restoration of the church happened. On February 4 and 5, 2019, Jonathan Luciano, National Director of ACN Philippines, immediately paid a solidarity visit to the relatives of the victims and to the site. Aid efforts to rehabilitate the cathedral were on board and slowly developed. Together with the help of many organizations and benefactors led by Aid to the Church in Need, the cathedral was repaired.
Six months after the deadly explosion, the renewed Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel once again held Mass on July 16, 2019. Together with retired Cardinal Orlando Quevedo and other bishops and priests, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Gabrielle Caccia led the reconsecration. The day of celebration coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the church’s patroness.
The process of the Cathedral’s rebuild is only the start of its restoration. Standing with faith and love, Aid to the Church in Need continues its Appeal for Prayer to the public – that the strength and the faith of the lay and of our fellowmen be renewed and strengthened. Moreover, that the souls of those who passed away find peace and justice.
Christians around the world are being targeted because of religious beliefs. Persecution and violence have been rampant and the number of cases continue to rise. Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity, is a pontifical organization with a mission to support the faithful whenever and wherever they face injustice and persecution. The persecuted will never be forgotten, and the suffering will be aided.
As one, let us pray for the victims of the twin bombing on January 27, 2019:
(Source: AFP WESTMINCOM)
On August 6, 2014, IS units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul. Some 120,000 Christians had to flee overnight. Many of them found refuge around the Kurdish city of Erbil. For the following three years, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda, was one of the pillars in the maintenance and support of the community. Early 2016 Iraqi forces and their allies were able to recover the territories and tens of thousands of displaced Christians returned to the ruins of their home cities. Others decided to stay in Erbil or emigrate out of the country. The ACN Foundation together with the local churches significantly supports the reconstruction. Five years after the invasion of the Nineveh Plain, ACN interviews Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda – an eye-witness of all these events – about the consequences for Christians in Iraq but also for the entire Middle East and for Western countries.
The interview was conducted by Maria Lozano.
It has been five years of Calvary. Looking back what would be the lesson you have taken?
When a people have nothing left to lose, in some sense it is very liberating, and from this position of clarity and new-found courage I can speak on behalf of my people and tell you the truth. But I would like to remark that we are a people who have endured persecution in patience and faith for 1,400 years confronting an existential struggle, our final struggle in Iraq. The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians from historical homelands and rendered us, in a single night, without shelter and refuge, without work or properties, without churches and monasteries, without the ability to participate in any of the normal things of life that give dignity; family visits, celebration of weddings and births, sharing of sorrows. Our tormentors confiscated our present while seeking to wipe out our history and destroy our future. This was an exceptional situation, but not an isolated one. It was part of the recurring cycle of violence in the Middle East over 1,400 years.
Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil.
So in fact, the ISIS invasion was just the “tip of the iceberg”?
With each successive cycle the number of Christians falls away, till today we are at the point of extinction. Argue as you will, but extinction is coming, and then what will anyone say? That we were made extinct by natural disaster, or gentle migration? That the ISIS attacks were unexpected, and we were taken by surprise? –That is what the media will say. Or will the truth emerge after our disappearance: that we were persistently and steadily eliminated over the course of 1,400 years by a belief system which allowed for regular and recurring cycles of violence against us – like the Ottoman genocide of 1916-1922.
But during these 1,400 years of Christian oppression, were there periods of Muslim tolerance as an alternative to violence and persecution?
One cannot deny the existence of times of relative tolerance. Under al Rashid, the House of Wisdom, the great library, was founded in Baghdad. There was a time of relative prosperity while Christian and Jewish scholarship was valued, and a flowering of science, mathematics and medicine was made possible by Nestorian Christian scholars who translated Greek texts, already ancient in the ninth century. Our Christian ancestors shared with Muslim Arabs a deep tradition of thought and philosophy and engaged with them in respectful dialogue from the 8th century onwards. The Arab Golden Age, as historian Philip Jenkins has noted, was built on Chaldean and Syriac scholarship. Christian scholarship. The imposition of Shari’a law saw the decline of great learning, and the end of the “Golden Age” of Arab culture. A style of scholastic dialogue had developed, and which could only occur, because a succession of caliphs tolerated minorities. As toleration ended, so did the culture and wealth which flowed from it.
“The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians”.
So, would you say that peaceful coexistence is possible and tolerance is the key to the development of peoples?
Exactly. But these moments of toleration have been a one-way experience: Islamic rulers decide, according to their own judgment and whim, whether Christians and other non-Muslims are to be tolerated and to what degree. It is not, and has never, ever, been a question of equality. Fundamentally, in the eyes of Islam, Christians are not equal. We are not to be treated as equal; we are only to be tolerated or not tolerated, depending upon the intensity of the prevailing Jihadi spirit. Yes; the root of all of this is the teachings of Jihad, the justification for acts of violence.
Iraqi Christians are going back to their villages again. Is the situation now improving? How is life for the Christians and other minorities?
There are still extremist groups, growing in number, asserting that killing Christians and Yazidis helps spread Islam. By strictly adhering to Koranic teaching they prescribe Dhimmi status (second class citizenship) to minorities, allowing confiscation of property and enforcement of jizya Islamic tax. But it is not just this. If you were a Christian in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, you would never accept for one moment the shadow under which we Iraqis live – and under which we have lived for centuries. By my country’s constitution we are lesser citizens, we live at the discretion of our self-appointed superiors. Our humanity gives us no rights.
In Western countries you stand equal under the law. This basic principle of European and American life is a foundation of Christian civic order, in which we are all children under a loving God, created in His image and likeness, which gives us all dignity, and urges on us mutual respect. Civic security grows out of a worldview that values every individual human not for their position or role, but simply because they are human. This view has been the great gift of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Rebuilding civil society means rebuilding it for everybody. Everyone has a place, and everyone has a chance to thrive.
The truth is, there is a foundational crisis within Islam itself, and if this crisis is not acknowledged, addressed and fixed then there can be no future for civil society in the Middle East, or indeed any- where where Islam brings itself to bare upon a host nation.
Some voices said that the brutality and the violence of ISIS have changed the Islamic world, too. What do you think?
Clearly, ISIS shocked the conscience of the world, and has shocked the conscience of the Islamic-majority world as well. The question now is whether or not Islam will continue on a political trajectory, in which Shari’a is the basis for civil law and nearly every aspect of life is circumscribed by religion, or whether a more civil, tolerant movement will develop.
The defeat of Daesh has not seen the defeat of the idea of the re-establishment of the Caliphate. This has re-awoken and is now firmly implanted in minds throughout the Muslim world. And with this idea of the Caliphate there comes all the formal historical structures of intentional inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims. I speak here not only of Iraq. We see leaders in other countries in the Middle East who are clearly acting in a way consistent with the re-establishment of the Caliphate.
How do you think that the West will react to this?
This is a crucial question and the religious minorities of the Middle East want to know the answer. Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organised persecution against us? When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say, “we are all Christians”? And yes I do say, the “next wave of violence”, for this is simply the natural result of a ruling system that preaches inequality, and justifies persecution. The equation is not complicated. One group is taught that they are superior and legally entitled to treat others as inferior human beings on the sole basis of their faith and religious practices. This teaching inevitably leads to violence against any “inferiors” who refuse to change their faith. And there you have it – the history of Christians in the Middle East for the last 1,400 years.
On August 6, 2014, IS units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul.
But what would be the solution? How are we to build a better future?
This change must come about as the conscious work of the Muslim world itself. We see the small beginnings, perhaps, of this recognition in Egypt, in Jordan, in Asia, even in Saudi Arabia. Certainly much remains to be seen as to whether there is actual sincerity in this.
Has Christianity in Middle East a prophetic mission?
Mine is a missionary role: to give daily witness to the teachings of Christ, to show the truth of Christ and to provide a living example to our Muslim neighbours of a path to a world of forgiveness, of humility, of love, of peace. Lest there be any confusion here I am not speaking of conversion. Rather, I am speaking of the fundamental truth of forgiveness which we Christians of Iraq can share, and share from a position of historically unique moral clarity. We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them. In the name of Christ, we forgive them. And so we say to our Muslim neighbours, learn this from us. Let us help you heal. Your wounds are as deep as ours. We know this. We pray for your healing. Let us heal our wounded and tortured country together.
And what about our Western secular society, according to your opinion, what would our task be?
We ask that you consider our situation truthfully, as it actually exists, and not in stretched attempts at historical relativism, which diminishes, or more honestly, insults, the reality of our suffering, and thereby robs us even of the dignity of our continued faith. The heart of the struggle is to understand the nature of the battle. You will have to ask yourselves, how long can a moderate and decent society survive without the influence of Christian institutions? How long can the tradition exist after the faith has died? What will flow into the vacuum? The role Christian communities play, or have played, in Islamic societies has been overlooked. It is an important part of the formation of civil society in most of the world. It needs highlighting because the situation in Iraq has been woefully misread by Western decision makers. There is no reason to believe they will not misread the same signs and portents in their own countries. You think you are a long way from the chaos of Iraq? Let me assure you; it is only six hours away.
Speaking about decision makers, what would be the role of politicians?
We ask them to support efforts to ensure equal treatment for all minorities in Iraq and elsewhere. We pray that policy makers can find in themselves the humility to recognize that their theories, which over the past decades have become our horrific reality, have been almost universally wrong, based on fundamentally flawed assessments of the Iraqi people and situation. And in these mistaken policies, designed in comfort and safety from afar, argued over in the media as partisan intellectual talking points, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died. An entire country has been ripped apart and left to the jackals. This horror all began with policy, and we beg those of you who continue to have access in shaping policy for your country, to daily remember that your policy assessments and those of your allies have life or death consequences. Please, walk humbly and make sure that you truly understand the people on whom you are passing sentence. Understanding what has happened in Iraq means being truthful about the nature and purpose of Christian civil order. It means being truthful about the nature and purpose of the laws of Islam. It means being truthful about what happens when these two come together in one place. I appreciate that this is an uncomfortable subject to discuss in the comfort of a peaceful country. But for Iraqi Christians this is no abstract matter.
The most painful question: Are we facing the end of Christianity in Iraq?
It could be. We acknowledge this. Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest Churches, is perilously close to extinction. In the years prior to 2003, we numbered as many as one-and-a-half million: six percent of Iraq’s population. Today, there are perhaps as few as 250,000 of us left. Maybe less. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom.
In the end, the entire world faces a moment of truth. Will a peaceful and innocent people be allowed to be persecuted and eliminated because of their faith? And, for the sake of not wanting to speak the truth to the persecutors, will the world be complicit in our elimination? The world should understand, in our path to extinction we will not go quietly any further. From this point we will speak the truth, and live out the truth, in full embrace of our Christian witness and mission, so that if someday we are gone no one will be able to say: how did this happen? We Christians are a people of Hope. But facing the end also brings us clarity, and with it the courage to finally speak the truth. Our hope to remain in our ancient homeland now rests on the ability of ourselves, our oppressors, and the world to acknowledge these truths. Violence and discrimination against the innocents must end. Those who teach it must stop. We Christians of Iraq, who have faced 1,400 years of persecution, violence and genocide, are prepared to speak out and bear witness to our oppressors and to the world, whatever the consequence.
The landlocked state of Zambia in southern Africa is one of the more stable countries on the continent. Christians make up the overwhelming majority (90%) of its population of around 17 million people. However, only around one fifth of the population are Catholics, the majority belonging to a range of different Protestant communities.
The Catholic Church here is facing major challenges. In the past the life of the Church was steered above all by foreign missionaries, who were able to obtain support from their home countries, but today it is the native African bishops and priests who are increasingly shouldering the responsibility. In many places the infrastructure is poor, the parishes cover vast areas and the Catholic faithful often live widely scattered, so that many more priests are needed in order to minister to them all. At the same time the sects are very active in proselytising, drawing away many of the faithful with their easy promises and simplistic messages of salvation. They promise people health, wealth and material success and so manage to entice many people, including Catholics. They are successful above all where, owing to the lack of financial means and the vast distances, the pastoral outreach of the Church is not sufficiently intensive to make people feel truly rooted and at home in the Church.
Zambia: Renovation of the Saint Augustine‘s seminary in Kabwe.
What the Church in Zambia needs above all, therefore, is more priests. But in order to train these priests, the appropriate infrastructure and facilities have to be present. In the Saint Augustine‘s seminary in Kabwe there are almost 90 young men training for the priesthood. But the seminary building, which dates back to the 1950s, had for some years now been in urgent need of renovation. There were cracks in the walls, falling ceiling tiles and roof panels, a hopelessly outdated plumbing system… All these things were making life here difficult and in some cases even dangerous. Above all the toilet and sanitary facilities needed urgent repair and renovation. Thanks to the help of our generous benefactors, ACN was able to contribute 14,900 Euros, thereby enabling the bathroom facilities to be properly refurbished and the rusting pipework replaced. The seminarians are delighted with the results and send their heartfelt thanks to all who have helped.
Issanagri is one of the villages within the parish of the Assumption, based in the village of Chak 7, in the diocese of Faisalabad. The parish as a whole has a total of 6,000 Catholic faithful, while Issanagri itself has around 300 Catholic families, or approximately 1,500 Catholics.
The village is around 6 miles (10 km) from the centre of the parish, so it is a long walk to the parish church. Issanagri already has a small chapel of its own, but it is far too small for the number of the faithful.
Pakistan: Help to complete a church in Issanagri.
So now the Catholic faithful have themselves begun to build a larger church. They have made great sacrifices to do so – collecting money, although they themselves are poor, and working hard on the building site, even though they already have to work very hard simply to support their families. But despite all their efforts and hard work, they have so far only managed to build part of the church. Holy Mass is still being celebrated in the open air, between the partly built walls, where there is no shelter from the scorching sun or torrential rain, or indeed the biting cold that can still be felt in winter, even in Pakistan.
The parish priest, Father Waseem Walter, has written to ACN for help so that they can finally complete their church. He writes, „It is urgently necessary to build this church.“ We have promised him our help, and his people were overjoyed to learn that we are willing to support them. Now we need your help to raise the 11,000 Euros we have already promised them…
The town of Camela has a population of around 30,000 souls and lies in the midst of the vast sugarcane plantations in the northeast of Brazil. The life of the people here is marked by great poverty and grave social problems, with widespread violence and drug addiction and an invasion by fundamentalist sects. Today there are no fewer than 75 different temples of these sects in the town, while the Catholic Church has just one, far too small parish church and a chapel in the cemetery.
Moreover, the parish church is sandwiched between a store and a supermarket, and there is consequently no possibility of extending or enlarging it. Sunday Mass is now celebrated on the local sports ground instead, since there is not enough space inside the church for all the faithful.
ACN is proposing to offer 35,700 Euros to support the project.
Father Laion Fernando Gonçalves dos Santos Ferreira works very hard among his people, together with three lay missionaries, and is providing an excellent and fruitful pastoral ministry among them.
The parish has now been given a plot of land on which to build a new parish church. And they need our help… ACN is proposing to offer 35,700 Euros to support the project. Will you help us?
CHALDEAN ARCHBISHOP Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan has been the prime mover behind the establishment of two major new Christian institutions in the region. In 2016, the Catholic University in Erbil opened its doors and late summer will see the formal opening of the new Catholic hospital in Erbil, the Maryamana, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. For more than three years, the Archdiocese of Erbil hosted more than 120,000 Christians who fled the 2014 onslaught of ISIS on the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq. While some 40,000 faithful have since returned to their homes, many thousands have made Kurdistan their permanent home. The university – the only Catholic university in Iraq – and hospital will be a significant boost for the re-established Christian communities on the Nineveh Plains as well as for the local Christian community in Kurdistan. The archbishop spoke with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the significance of both projects.
What is your vision for the new Catholic hospital?
The overall goal of the hospital is to bring effective and affordable healthcare to a war-torn region that is totally lacking in resources and modern equipment. This is partly due to decades of continuous conflict but also because of the inactivity of the government. It is likely that in the next decade there will be even more refugees, IDPs, and older persons in need. We will be in a position to support the neediest patients and offer them discounts of up to 60 percent.
Bashar Matti Warda, archbishop of Erbil, Kurdistan Iraq.
The hospital must also be important, especially for Christians, in generating jobs in a region with high unemployment?
The provision of jobs will show Christians that we are building a future for them in Erbil.
Christians and other minorities are often denied jobs and are overlooked for promotion due to a prejudiced political system. There are few if any politicians willing to stand up for the rights of Christians. This has a direct correlation to people leaving the country. Along with the university, Maryamana is a crucial and pivotal project that aims to keep Christians in Erbil and on the Nineveh Plains. Both institutions demonstrate that Christians matter and that they are an integral part of Iraqi society.
Will the hospital serve only Christians?
The hospital’s mission aligns with that of the Church. Any person, regardless of religion or race, can receive treatment at Maryamana Hospital; priority will be given to those whose medical needs are most urgent. It is well known that Muslims trust Christian healthcare professionals; hopefully, Maryamana will also facilitate our communal reconciliation efforts by addressing the health-care needs of other faiths.
What medical services will the hospital provide?
The hospital will have 70 beds and seven operating rooms, all of which we expect to be in constant use. The hospital will be able to serve 300 outpatients per day and will offer most medical services. In addition to the care of pregnant women and pre-term infants, there will be clinics for a full range of specialties. The hospital will have up-to-date laboratory equipment and be able to administer the full spectrum of diagnostic tests (e.g., MRIs, CT scans); there are two emergency departments, as well as a pharmacy. In some three years, we hope the Maryamana can become a teaching hospital. Planning for an oncology center at the hospital is also underway.
What is the mission of the Catholic University in Erbil?
The Catholic University in Erbil was founded to secure educational and professional opportunities for our young people so that they will be encouraged to stay in Iraq and become the future leaders of the Christian community here and elsewhere in the country. Eventually, when our young people are getting good jobs in a majority Muslim country, they will find hope and turn to the university as their conduit to succeed and thrive in their careers in Kurdistan and Iraq. We hope that the university will inspire religious minorities and prove to them that they have viable and bright futures here. We are trying to establish Erbil as a long-term home for the Christian community—and people choose to stay when there are jobs and when there is a strong infrastructure of services and institutions. The school will give the Christian community a major sense of worth and belonging.
In Kurdistan, Iraq, a new Catholic hospital and university bring hope to an embattled Christian community.
How many students does the university have now and what is your goal?
Currently 108 students are enrolled, including 10 Muslims; academic degrees are awarded in Accounting, English, International Relations, Information Technology and Computer Science Our target for the academic year 2022-2023 is to have 825 students enrolled – 615 Iraqi Christians, 125 Muslims and 85 Yazidis, from Kurdistan, Mosul, the Nineveh Plains, Duhok, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Basra. To attract students, we are aiming to build and establish additional departments in core academic disciplines: Economics, Engineering, Health & Medical Sciences, and Education.
We want to establish the university as an international anchor project to keep Christianity in Iraq. We are building relationships with the relevant ministries here and working internationally with many universities to establish the brand of the Catholic University in Erbil. Iraqi Christians and other minorities are drawn to the university because the teaching is done in English and because of its location in Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil, an environment that promises safety and care. The new Maryamana Hospital is also located in Ankawa.
What are your main concerns regarding these initiatives, the hospital and university?
The key challenges were getting both institutions built and operational. With the hospital, the priority is to repay our loans, but we know that the hospital will be fully utilized and become profitable. The demand is there. In Kurdistan, there are more than a million refugees and hundreds of thousands of elderly people; clinics in Erbil and Duhok serve more than 1,000 patients each month; as many as 2,000 chronically ill patients rely on our local clinic, St. Joseph’s, for very expensive drugs.
The university, still young, requires more funding, since most of our students – many of them from Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains – are attending on full scholarships. We need to expand academically, since the number of departments correlates with the number of applicants. It is difficult to recruit native English speakers as teachers, as consulates say that Kurdistan is unsafe. We can only attract people through word of mouth and testimonials from visitors, but I believe that we will succeed. Currently, 14 of our local young people are earning Master’s degrees in the US, the UK, Italy and Australia. Upon their return home, they will play key roles at both the university and the hospital. I thank all our benefactors with all my heart and prayers; they are doing a magnificent job for all of us here. God bless them all.
For the past two years, ACN has supported the Catholic University in Erbil and the Maryamana Hospital with funding for scholarships and for the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment. From 2014 through 2017, ACN sponsored projects totaling more than $40M in support of the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil as it provided food, medical care, housing and education for the IDPs who had fled the Nineveh Plains after ISIS captured the region.