Special Collection aids Christians in Middle East

BALTIMORE – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has committed an initial $1 million in private funding to help victims of the escalating violence in northern Iraq. With the help of service partners in Iraq, CRS is currently providing food, water and essential living supplies to families in desperate need of the essentials.
Over the next six months, CRS hopes to more than double the initial $1 million commitment and help an additional 30,000 people with social support and trauma counseling, education for children and preparation for longer-term resettlement. The Diocese of Jackson will take up a collection the weekend of Sept. 27-28, to help Catholic agencies in the Middle East assist with humanitarian aid.


Children flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, Aug. 10. Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 Yezidi ethnic minorities, an Iraqi human rights minister said. (CNS photo/Rodi Said, Reuters)

CRS worker Caroline Brennan filed the following report from a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq:
The news from Iraq can be terrifying from a distance. But up close and in person, Iraqi families could not be more gracious, welcoming and kind — despite the dire backdrop in which they are living.
In a tent where the heat is sweltering and water is in scarce supply, you are offered a bottle of cold water. Under an open sky where a family — who lived in a nice home less than a month ago, and today lives under a tree — you are graciously offered tea. Above all, you are offered apologies that they are not able to offer you anything more.
The humanitarian crisis facing Iraqi families here is something that was unimaginable for many of them just months ago. Since January of this year, 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced within their country. They come from diverse backgrounds — Christian, Yazidi, and Shia minorities; corporate jobs, farmers and day laborers; grandparents, college students and newborns. They have one thing in common: they have been targeted by the militant group the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and have fled their homes in fear.
Many left in the middle of the night at a moment’s notice, crowded into small cars with a large number of family members, fleeing for safer cities like Erbil and Dohuk. They made it to some form of refuge after being robbed at check points and walking for hours or days. They find themselves in a life completely foreign to what they knew before.
Local Iraqi priests say all are welcome here for refuge, but their resources are stretched thin. CRS is working with the local Catholic Church and Caritas Iraq to provide relief and care for thousands in the area. To date, Caritas Iraq and CRS have provided living supplies to 4,350 displaced families in Erbil, Ninewa, Dahuk, Zakho and Amedi. But the needs are tremendous.


Displaced people stand outside their tent at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Ankawa, Iraq, Aug. 14. (CNS photo/courtesy Aid to the Church in Need-USA)

Fear looms for families who are uncertain what their options will be for the long term. For starters: School is to start in September, but tens of thousands of people have filled classrooms of school buildings that were closed for the summer. Many displaced children weren’t able to take their end of year exams back home so are uncertain they will be able to move up whenever schools do resume. It’s unclear when schools will reopen and, if so, where these families will go.
“We need to go to back to our homes. We want to be safe. We want to be able to go to Church,” says Mary, who now lives in a classroom with another family in Sarsang.
And, driving along the highways, you see hundreds of families, primarily Yazidi, living under overpasses or along the sides of the road.
No matter the backdrop, you are still welcomed with kindness, and offered what little families have from their abundance of their generosity.
“I don’t want you to feel sorry for me,” said Saddam, living in an abandoned building with his six children in Erbil. “I don’t want to hurt your heart. I’m sorry you are meeting me in this circumstance. This is not life, but we are breathing,” he says.
CRS and Caritas are opening a joint office in Erbil as a base for their expanding operations. Program priorities include: Food and shelter; water and sanitation; essential living supplies; psychological and social support; education for the thousands of internally displaced children who have missed months of school; and preparation for longer-term resettlement, including more permanent shelter and livelihood options, such as cash-for-work and vocational training.
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Rice Bowl donations at work in diocese

By Maureen Smith
Many families made the CRS Rice Bowl a part of their Lenten sacrifice, but may have forgotten to actually turn in their collections. Catholic Relief Services says it’s not too late. Rice Bowl money can be submitted until August 31. Since the beginning of CRS Rice Bowl in 1975, donations have been designated to support both local and global hunger and poverty alleviation efforts. Seventy-five percent of the revenue comes to CRS to support development projects overseas while 25 percent remains in dioceses in the U.S. to support local hunger and poverty alleviation efforts. In the Diocese of Jackson, the money is distributed out of the Catholic Charities office in Vardaman. Jettie Pettit, who runs that office, shared with Mississippi Catholic the story of one family who benefitted from the generosity of its neighbors.
On May 6, Lorenzo Villanueva came to my office asking for help to pay his electric bill. Clients must fill out a form telling us what emergency left them in need of aid. When I read his response, I asked if he would tell me his story. On February 14, he was taking his wife out to eat for Valentine’s day and to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.

They were also celebrating something else: His wife had had a miscarriage the second year of their marriage and was told that she would not be able to have a child because of damage to her womb. He said they had prayed for a miracle and God had blessed them by letting his wife become pregnant. On the night of their celebration, Selena was almost eight months pregnant and everything was looking good. As Villanueva pulled out from a stop sign, a speeding car ran into them on the passenger side. He was thrown from the car and suffered cuts, bruises and a broken arm. He tried to get his wife out of the car, but had to wait for the ‘jaws of life.’ At the hospital, doctors told him that Selena had no brain activity and was clinically dead. At this point, both he and I were crying.
The doctor detected a fetal heartbeat, so Selena was put on life support until the fate of the unborn child could be known. On February 16, doctors delivered five-pound-three-ounce Sofia and placed her in her father’s arms. Then, Lorenzo held his wife’s hand as the machines were turned off and she died. Sofia had to stay in the hospital for three weeks due to breathing problems while Lorenzo buried her mother and tried to alternate his time between a few hours work and many hours at the hospital. Due to hospital bills and minimum work, he got behind on his bills. Thanks to Rice Bowl funding, we were able to get him caught up on his utility bills. Father and adorable daughter are learning to go on with their lives.
Any family that wishes to make a donation to this year’s Rice Bowl collection can submit it to their parish or submit it directly to CRS and the agency will send the diocesan share to Catholic Charities. Find out more at www.crsricebowl.org.