Iraqi civilians flee Basra. (photo: Tony Nicoletti/ Corbis)
A Dominican sister of St. Catherine of Siena delivers a wartime baby at Al Hayat Hospital. (photo: Karim Sahib/ Corbis)
Some of Baghdad’s hospitals functioned despite the lack of electricity. (photo: Faleh Kheiber/ Corbis)
Working by candlelight, pharmacists at Al Hayat Hospital prescribe medicines. (photo: Faleh Kheiber/ Corbis)
Iraqi refugees in Jordan await emergency supplies distributed by CNEWA. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Months before war began with Iraq, an agency of the Holy See quietly prepared the churchs response to the inevitable humanitarian crisis there by planning a prudent but effective course of action, mobilizing resources and manpower.
CNEWAs operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission, has launched a two-part initiative, combining emergency relief (19 distribution centers in Iraq and five in Jordan) with programs of human development in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul.
Utilizing the local church. Raed Bahou, Pontifical Mission and CNEWAs Regional Director for Jordan and Iraq, said these initiatives will utilize the churchs network in Iraq: clergy, religious and the laity.
Communication is difficult, Mr. Bahou said on 9 April, but three of the 19 planned emergency centers all in the Mosul area are already functioning as havens.
Our partner in running these centers, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, a Chaldean Catholic community, is transforming its convents into centers where families receive basic food supplies and potable water.
Although the sisters attempted to store a six-month supply of medicines and basic foodstuffs oil, rice, macaroni, sugar and tea Mr. Bahou stated that three weeks into the war, the sisters had only managed to secure emergency supplies for 40 days.
Despite a wealth of natural resources, including oil and fertile land, most of Iraqs people are poor; 70 percent of this nation of some 24 million people is dependent on monthly food rations for survival. War and postwar upheaval have only exacerbated the humanitarian crisis there.
In addition to distributing emergency relief supplies, we plan to provide education, job training and job creation programs and health care initiatives, Mr. Bahou said. Pontifical Missions plans are part of our ongoing commitment to foster human development, to find creative ways to support the Iraqi people.
Since 1991, the Mission has coordinated more than $4 million in aid primarily for health care assistance from throughout the Catholic world to the people of Iraq. Significant partners include CNEWA, Church in Need, Kinderhilfe Bethlehem, Misereor, Missio and Kindermissionswerk.
Long-term commitment. To help fulfill an immediate need, Pontifical Mission is bolstering its support of two Catholic hospitals in Baghdad Al Hayat, a 27-bed mother and child facility operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Raphaels, an 86-bed general hospital administered by another community of Dominican Sisters. In addition to providing these institutions with supplies and medicines, Mr. Bahou said the Pontifical Mission plans to open free clinics at both hospitals.
Modeled after the Missions clinic at the Italian Hospital in the Jordanian capital of Amman, these clinics will provide the poor with access to quality health care.
In the northern city of Mosul, Pontifical Mission is working with the Dominican Sisters to determine the location there of a prenatal and postnatal clinic, which the sisters will administer. Modeled after the Missions Mother of Mercy clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, also operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, the clinic will provide quality care to an estimated 35,000 women and children a year.
Pontifical Mission has also discussed with the nations Chaldean and Syriac Catholic bishops the opening of four vocational centers, each administered by the bishops of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul.
The fate of the vocational center built for Chaldean Bishop Djibrail Kassab in Basra is unknown, Mr. Bahou said.
These vocational centers will provide occupational training, including computer science, for future generations of Iraqs work force, Mr. Bahou said.
These people are eager to get on with their lives, to earn a living for their families.
Iraqi refugees. Though Jordan braced itself for a flood of Iraqis, virtually none have sought refuge there since the beginning of hostilities. Tens of thousands of Iraqis had, however, already made their way to Amman, the traditional way station for refugees, seeking visas to the Americas, Australia or Western Europe.
Many of these refugees are Christians, members of the Assyrian, Syriac Orthodox and Chaldean and Syriac Catholic churches. CNEWA has reached out to these refugees, assisting church leaders Catholic and Orthodox in providing emergency relief supplies, as well as health care. Many of those seeking care at Ammans Italian Hospital, for example, are Iraqi refugees.
As we go to press, CNEWA, through the Pontifical Mission, has launched a monthly food distribution program in Amman.
A team of 24 female volunteers, said Mr. Bahou, are packing boxes containing beans, butter, cooking oil, macaroni, rice, sugar, tea and tomato sauce.
The CNEWA-sponsored endeavor feeds more than 1,200 families monthly.
Thousands of Iraqis have also sought refuge in Lebanon and Syria. Beiruts Chaldean Bishop, Michel Kassarji, receives aid from the Pontifical Mission to purchase food and to secure places to stay.
Middle East power struggle. For the past 50 years the Holy See has been engaged in a power struggle in the Middle East, said Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA. No, not a struggle for or against political power, but rather a power struggle involving the power of love.
Against a backdrop of violence, oppression and war throughout the Middle East, Msgr. Stern continued, the Holy Father has ceaselessly mobilized the forces of love and charity of the Catholic world in favor of the victims the poor, the afflicted, the sick, the maimed, the helpless, the innocent, the oppressed, the displaced, the refugee.
From its inception in June 1949, the Pontifical Mission has coordinated worldwide Catholic aid to help the local church in the Middle East respond to the tragedies there the Palestinian refugee crises prompted by the Arab-Israeli wars; the devastation of Lebanon as a result of that nations 15-year civil war; the humanitarian tragedies brought about by the Palestinian uprisings, beginning in 1987 and 2000; and the fallout from the two Gulf wars.
By the grace of God, wrote Pope John Paul II to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Achille Cardinal Silvestrini, on the occasion of the Pontifical Missions 50th anniversary in 1999, and the support of so many people, the Mission has been greatly successful in serving the peoples of the region by providing aid to a growing network of educational, medical and social institutions which seek to heal the wounds of conflict and violence.
I pray fervently that the Missions witness of solidarity will continue to ensure the integral development of the peoples of the region.
Today, these mobilized forces are poised to relieve the sufferings of Iraq.
Michael La Civita is CNEWA’s Communications Director.