Two Bishops Kidnapped in Syria
Militants in a rebel-held area of northern Syria abducted two bishops traveling from the Turkish border back to the city of Aleppo on April 22.
Yohanna Ibrahim is head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo and Boulos Yaziji leads the Greek Orthodox Church in the city. They are the most senior Christian clerics caught up directly in the war. It was not immediately clear who had kidnapped them.
Christians made up about 10 percent of the mainly Sunni Muslim country's population before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began more than two years ago.
According to the UN, at least 70,000 people have been killed overall in the civil war and more than one million are now living as refugees in neighboring countries.
State TV announced that an "armed terrorist group" had kidnapped the two bishops as they carried out "humanitarian work in Aleppo countryside." Christian residents of Aleppo told AFP news agency that gunmen had killed the bishops' driver.
In an interview with BBC Arabic's Saeed Shehada a week ago, Bishop Ibrahim said he was optimistic about the future of Christians in Syria.
"There is no persecution of Christians and there is no single plan to kill Christians. Everyone respects Christians. Bullets are random and not targeting the Christians because they are Christians," he said.
- BBC News
Iraq Improving, Says Patriarch
As Iraqis participated in the first elections since the United States withdrew its troops, Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako told Vatican Radio that he has observed an improvement in the situation of the nation’s Christians.
“There is an improvement of security on all levels,” said Patriarch Sako. “There are also explosions, but nothing against Christians as it was before that. And also they can have their jobs and also their work.”
“The problem is the future,” he cautioned. “There is no real stability. Therefore they are a little bit worried, not only the Christians but also the others.”
Meanwhile, only three of the 447 contested seats in upcoming local Iraqi elections have been reserved for Christians, who make up 3 percent of the nation’s population. Patriarch Sako has encouraged Iraqi Christians to vote in the elections.
“The Patriarchate distinguishes political work from the work of the Church,” a Church spokesman said in a statement. “A reality and an extended institution like the Chaldean Church cannot directly get involved in political work and the divisions that it entails, because this would be done at the expense of its evangelical mission. Political work is the responsibility of the laity.”
Meeting of the Minds
It was a candid conversation about refugee resettlement and funding for organizations that assist Iraq refugees in the United States. More than 20 members of the Chaldean community representing various organizations attended the April 19 meeting at Shenandoah Country Club focused on refugee resettlement issues.
Joe Kassab of the Iraqi Christian Advocacy and Empowerment Institute and Jane Shallal from the Chaldean American Ladies of Charity hosted the event. Congressmen Sander Levin and Gary Peters, along with two State Department officials, Assistant Secretary Anne Richard and Director Lawrence Bartlett, also attended.
The focus of the discussion was on refugee relief and services as well as admissions into the United States. Every year immigrants from 66 different nationalities immigrate to the United States, according to Richard and Bartlett. According to federal statistics, there are about 42 million displaced people around the globe and 12 to 15 million are estimated to be from the Middle East. The federal government currently allows 70,000 to enter the U.S. each year.
Iraq National Museum Has a Long Way to Go
Ten years after Iraq's national museum was looted and smashed by frenzied thieves during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, it's still far from ready for a public re-opening. Work to overcome decades of neglect and the destruction of war has been hindered by power struggles, poorly skilled staff and the persistent violence plaguing the country.
The museum was once the showcase for 7,000 years of history in Mesopotamia, birthplace of some of the first cities and one of the first writing systems -- cuneiform --and home to a succession of major civilizations, including the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian. But it was left a wreck the day after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 10, 2003. Ancient clay scrolls and pottery littered the floor. Looters made off with everything from gold bowls and ritual funeral masks to elaborate headdresses. The U.S. was sharply criticized for not protecting the museum.
Because the museum's inventory was never completed, it's uncertain how many pieces were stolen, but the number is estimated at 15,000 pieces. More than a quarter have been retrieved.
Renovations began soon after the museum was smashed up in 2003. But work has been slow. Only five of 30 exhibition halls have been renovated so far -- and two of those have to be done again because they were improperly done. As a result, the museum is still not open to the general public.
The museum's prize is the soaring Assyrian hall, chronicling the kingdom that rose to become a major empire in the region in the 2nd and 1st millennia B.C. The hall is lined with stone etchings of giant winged creatures and statues of hand-clasped Assyrian kings. Yet even here lay the unidentified broken stone head the size of an exercise ball, bearded and wearing a crown. Nearby stood an empty pedestal labeled for a statue of Nimrod.
- Associated Press
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A Peaceful Easter in Iraq
Iraq's Catholic Christians flocked to churches to celebrate Easter Sunday on March 31, praying, singing and rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ behind high blast walls and tight security cordons.