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Iraqi church formerly defaced by ISIS rededicated on Assumption feast

Qaraqosh, Iraq, Aug 16, 2019 / 05:23 am (CNA).- An Iraqi church damaged and defaced by the Islamic State in 2014 was rededicated Thursday for the parish’s celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The Syriac Catholic Church of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah in the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh welcomed Archbishop Petros Mouche of Mosul, priests, and the local Catholic community to celebrate the solemnity.

Archbishop Mouche rededicated the church's altar, which had been burned by the Islamic State. After renonvations and rebuilding, the interior of the church, once charred black by fire, has been painted white.

“All these people do not see the community reborn only as stones, but as faith around Christ who is celebrated in the Resurrection. So the Resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of the community itself that goes on. Our community has about 800 families,” Fr. George Jahola told Vatican News in an interview published Aug. 15.

Five years ago on the August Feast of the Transfiguration, the Islamic State devastated the city of Qaraqosh in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains causing Christians to flee the region.

“In 2014 we left our churches and our homes. The city had about 50,000 Christian inhabitants,” Fr. Jahola said.

Now the Christian population in the city has been reduced to half of what it was. About 26,000 Christians have returned to Qaraqosh, Jahola explained.

During their occupation, the Islamic State desecrated the churches in Qaraqosh, in some cases writing battle instructions on church walls. St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church was turned into a bomb factory and used as storage for supplies of deadly chemicals to make powerful explosives. The church of the Immaculate Conception was used as an indoor shooting range with mannequins as targets, according to Aid to the Church in Need.

The Church of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah was charred black and its bell tower was demolished. “But we never stopped imagining how beautiful our church would be, once fixed,” Fr. Jahola said.

 

À Qaraqosh, l’évêque Mgr Petros Moiche a consacré le nouvel autel de l’église Mar Behnam et Sarah. Elle avait été incendiée par les djihadistes. Une impressionnante rénovation a été menée, signe de la victoire de la vie sur la destruction. #15aout #Irak pic.twitter.com/wgYfrY1jM2

— Fraternité en Irak (@FraterniteIrak) August 15, 2019  

Christmas Mass was celebrated in the church in Dec. 2018 during the church's reconstruction. The bell tower was rebuilt in 2019.

“We started the reconstruction project even before the liberation of the city, in the Nineveh Plains, when we were refugees,” he said. “We have worked to rebuild houses and communities as believers, because this is the sense of belonging both to a parish and to a community.”

ISIS was driven from Mosul in 2017, and the last remaining town of the original caliphate in Syria fell earlier this year. However many Christians who fled the ISIS onslaught in 2014 have not returned to their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh region.

Although the territorial ISIS caliphate is gone, security threats to Christians and Yazidis in the region remain. There are up to 15,000 ISIS fighters estimated to have remained in Iraq, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Christianity has been present in the Nineveh plain in Iraq – between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan – since the first century.

“What we have learned from the Gospel, from the Lord, is to be instruments of peace, and also to live peace,” Fr. Jahola said.

“We try in every way to realize it here, where the majority is Muslim, where there is still someone who still bears hatred. We truly believe in this, in forgiveness and in leaving the past behind to continue towards the future,” he said.

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A Catholic group wants to honor Ireland’s oldest grandparents

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 16, 2019 / 12:04 am (CNA).- In anticipation of the Irish National Grandparents Pilgrimage, a Catholic group has launched a search for the oldest grandparents in Ireland.

The Catholic Grandparents Association (CGA) has issued an invitation for the oldest grandparents and longest married couple to attend the 17th annual pilgrimage.

“Please help us find the longest married couple in Ireland and the oldest grandparents to come celebrate with us and be honoured at our annual national grandparents pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock,” the organization said, according to Irish news.

On September 8, thousands of grandparents from all over Ireland will travel to Knock Shrine in County Mayo. The event draws over 10,000 attendees each year.

The deadline for entries into the grandparent search is August 30. According to Irish News, participants may email their submission to catholicgrandparents@gmail.com.

The national shrine has been a destination for pilgrims since 1879, when 15 townspeople witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, angels, and Jesus Christ - as the Lamb of God - on the south gable of the town church, which was named St. John the Evangelist. For a period of about two hours, a crowd gathered to adore the apparition and to pray the rosary. Despite the rainstorm, the ground around the gable did not get wet.

The shrine began hosting the National Grandparents Pilgrimage in 2007.

The CGA was formed two years later to manage the pilgrimage. It has a goal of providing grandparents in the country with the encouragement to support their families. Both the pilgrimage and the organization were founded by Catherine Wiley.

“This association grew out of our Grandparents Pilgrimages, where thousands of grandparents gathered in recent years, united by the same goal to do the very best we can for our children and grandchildren,” the organization says on its website.

“Grandparents’ vital contribution to the family, the Church and society was never as important as now,” it adds.

In Ireland, Catholic group warns of housing discrimination against migrants

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 15, 2019 / 05:29 pm (CNA).- A representative from an Irish Catholic charity has warned that discrimination against immigrants in the private housing market has forced more people to pursue public housing.

The housing market in Ireland is “unbelievably difficult” for immigrants, said Danielle McLaughlin, a policy officer for Crosscare, a Catholic charity which aids the homeless.

McLaughlin said many immigrants face discrimination in the rental market and workplace, according to RTÉ News. She also said they receive lower wages because of a lack of language proficiency and qualifications.

Many immigrants have encountered a poor quality of accommodation or exploitation efforts by a landlord, she said.

“We have huge numbers coming to us with notices to quit. They are more susceptible to exploitation or not knowing their rights,” said McLaughlin, according to RTÉ News.

She cited two reports - one from the Economic and Social Research Institute and another from the Dublin City Council. The first report found that African immigrants suffered discrimination in the workplace. The other report determined that migrants had a greater chance of becoming homeless than those who were not migrants.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive reported that last March, 2,704 migrants applied for social housing in Ireland.

It also found that, while the total number of applicants on a waiting list for social housing dropped 12% since 2016, the number of immigrant applications have increased by 45%.

For the 2016 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, then-Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross expressed gratitude for the contribution immigrants have offered to Ireland. He encouraged parishioners to welcome migrants and refugees, who may have already faced numerous hardships, including hunger and displacement.

“Some will be coming to this country and they are hoping that Ireland will be a place where they are safe and can begin the process of rebuilding their lives,” he wrote.

“It is important that the local church be at the forefront of efforts to welcome them.”

 

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