Camp mayor skills: They don’t teach this in the seminary

Rogationist Father Jalal Yako talks to an internally displaced woman in Ankawa, Iraq, April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Rogationist Father Jalal Yako talks to an internally displaced woman in Ankawa, Iraq, April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

By Paul Jeffrey

ANKAWA, Iraq — When a colleague and I arrived at the Ashti camp for internally displaced families on the outskirts of Ankawa last month, we asked for the “abouna,” the Arabic word for father, or priest. We were looking for Rogationist Father Jalal Yako, but he wasn’t in his small caravan, the modular container-like building that has become ubiquitous among the displaced in northern Iraq.

A woman is seen in a camp for internally displaced families in Ankawa, Iraq, April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

A woman is seen in a camp for internally displaced families in Ankawa, Iraq, April 9. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

In response to my one-word query, people pointed down a crowded passageway. We headed that direction, occasionally querying, “Abouna?” Everyone kept pointing us on, all the way to the toilets. There stood the priest, with several construction workers, remodeling some troubled toilets.

I’m not sure whether Father Yako’s seminary education prepared him for this, but today he’s the de facto mayor of a village of 250 families, about a thousand people. Toilets are just one of his challenges.

When tens of thousands of people fled from the Islamic State’s sweep through Mosul and Qaraqosh in 2014, they came to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees (they had crossed no international border), they weren’t eligible for assistance from international agencies. Neither the government in far-off Baghdad nor authorities in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan offered much help. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from Islamic State, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile. Twenty-one months later, the church remains the principal manager of aid. Providing spiritual care goes hand in hand with providing water, sanitation and electricity.

Father Yako is an Iraqi who studied and lived in Italy for almost two decades, but came home to begin a mission in Qaraqosh in 2012. Two years later, he fled alongside the people of the town. His bishop said he could return to Italy, but Father Yako refused.

“As religious, it’s our mission to stay, not to leave,” he told us. “Even though we lost our houses and everything else, it’s for the people that we are consecrated. Now is the most significant moment to continue to serve the people, from the smallest to greatest.”

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq, participates in opening a youth congress in Ankawa, April 7. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq, participates in opening a youth congress in Ankawa, April 7. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

As the camp took formal shape, Syriac Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul asked Father Yako to manage it. He performed a census and got to work organizing the camp.

“The families are trying to live their lives, but it’s not easy. The camp was made in seven days, like the days of creation, without any preparation. Everything was rushed. The consequences of that came later when it rained. There was no drainage for the water outside, and water and humidity caused problems inside. A caravan is basically just a box, and there are no bathrooms. Instead, there are common bathrooms that always need maintenance,” he said.

On top of those infrastructure problems, Father Yako said the stress of formerly middle-class people living so close together exacerbated normal tensions, provoking aggression and at times mandating that he call the police.

“At times we despair. But we have to support each other and have confidence that the Lord will not abandon us. Kind people have helped us continue. At first, everything here was water puddles and filth,” he said. “But the Lord has his ways and he brings us the right people in the right moments.”

Father Yako expressed confidence that the villages they fled will someday be liberated.

“Just as we left, so we will also return,” he said. “Thanks to God our life here has made us feel like an example to other people and other faiths in Europe and beyond who watch the experience of the people here and are inspired. As a community, we have survived because of their solidarity, the solidarity of churches, friends, and humanitarian organizations. They have contributed a lot, perhaps because they have felt part of our people’s journey. We have resolved many problems here thanks to their help. We have many friends.”

A boy plays with marbles in a camp for internally displaced families in Ankawa, Iraq, April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

A boy plays with marbles in a camp for internally displaced families in Ankawa, Iraq, April 8. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 8, 2016

"Wait for 'the promise of the Father … in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'" -- Acts 1:4-5

“Wait for ‘the promise of the Father … in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” — Acts 1:4-5

 

May 8, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

      1) Acts 1:1-11

      Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9

      2) Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23

      Gospel: Luke 24:46-53

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

This week’s Gospel shows the impressive patience and trust of Jesus’ disciples as they watch their beloved master depart from them, ascending into heaven.

From the time they first became his disciples, he had been preparing them to go forth and spread his message to the whole world. In his final words, he again declares this to be their mission. However, in the next breath he tells them not to go yet.

Nevertheless, their excitement and joy are undeterred by the command to wait. While confident in his promise that they will carry out his mission, they respect the fact that their desire and abilities alone will be insufficient for the task.

Jesus’ transformative work is possible only with the power of his Spirit — that is the strength of his loving presence.

It’s the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. For the latter to take place, we must sometimes wait and trust in God’s timing.

For instance, my friend Julie, a devout Catholic, very much wanted her husband Scott to share her faith, but over 20 years of marriage he showed no interest. She prayed for him earnestly but didn’t believe in pushing him to participate in church.

Then, grieving over her father’s death, Julie herself wandered away from the church for a time. She returned after attending a women’s retreat, where she received the emotional and spiritual healing she needed.

Subsequently, she joined a Bible study group who asked her to invite Scott to come along. Although uncertain about the wisdom of such an invitation, Julie assured Scott the group had no intention of converting him to Catholicism but simply wanted to know him and learn from his early experiences of faith in another tradition.

To her surprise, Scott accepted and quickly became an enthusiastic participant. He also began attending church with Julie and was welcomed by more of her friends. Then he signed up for a retreat where other men in the community shared their experiences of God with him. “It changed my life,” he told everyone who would listen.

Julie had waited and the Spirit did not disappoint — it first renewed her and then embraced Scott with the unconditional love and encouragement that can only come through Christ.

QUESTIONS:

When have you felt inadequate in your efforts to evangelize? How have you witnessed the Holy Spirit of Christ providing the necessary power to bring the Gospel message to life in someone?

Bishop meets a U2 rocker

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, May 1, 2016

"Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him." -- John 14:23b

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” — John 14:23b

 

May 1, Sixth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

      Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8

      2) Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

      Gospel: John 14:23-29

 

By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

The college student I was interviewing for an article in the North Texas Daily at the University of North Texas had retained his Jewish identity when he converted to an evangelical mode of Christianity.

Ron was very late to our appointment, and I found out why once he arrived.

People kept stopping him along the way and engaging him in conversations about his newfound faith.

I’ve always thought it had something to do with a giftedness he had for sharing the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

I’ve always thought Ron had a special measure of the Holy Spirit that caused him to draw people to himself so he could share the wisdom of God’s love, the wisdom Jesus was talking about here.

On that first meeting with him, we began walking around the journalism offices on campus where I got to witness firsthand how God used Ron to communicate his love.

Person after person whom we greeted got into long, deep conversations about God and Jesus. People with slender faith backgrounds were eager to discuss faith with this exceptional guy.

While I had started out to get a factual story about Ron, it turned into a faith-filled feature story that ran in the secular campus newspaper.

Hmm, Holy Spirit at work?

QUESTIONS:

Have you ever known anyone who had a special wisdom that seemed to come from the Holy Spirit? Have you ever experienced God seeming to bring to mind answers you needed to help you in a time of special need?

Origins, the CNS documentary service, completes 45 years

completes

Covers of some editions of Origins (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Covers of some editions of Origins (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

By David Gibson

Origins, the CNS documentary service, recently wrapped up the last edition of its 45th volume, so we thought we’d share a bit of its history, compiled by David Gibson, the founding editor of Origins.

 A basic hope for Origins from the outset was that it could get important texts to subscribers quickly at a time when, typically, it took months to get a new document of major importance like an encyclical into people’s hands.

In this, I think it is safe to say that Origins exceeded expectations and surprised many. Today it must sound astonishing to many to hear how long it took just a few decades ago to gain access to these kinds of materials.

It really is difficult in talking about the history of Origins to recall how different things were in the early 1970s. One thing for certain, however, was that there was a huge interest in those years after the Second Vatican Council in pastoral ministries of all kinds, with speeches being given and pastoral letters being published continually on parish and diocesan ministries, and ways to make them more effective.

This was a boon to Origins. We never lacked for materials to publish that we were certain our subscribers would want to see because they wanted to put them to good use. I think, too, that in the early history of Origins many really welcomed the opportunity to see full texts of current speeches, pastoral letters and policy texts for themselves and to be able to view what today we might call the “sound bites” in their fuller context.

Origins started in what in hindsight looks like a completely different era of publishing. Its pages were typed on, yes, typewriters. Within a year or so we began to input texts for Origins onto a “computerized” typewriter of some kind. Naturally, we needed typists for this, and we editors did a lot of typing ourselves. But we usually were aided by a student or two from Catholic University who wanted part-time work.

In those days, too, we employed a graphics technician to do the corrections; if there was a typo, a corrected line was pasted in. It was all amazingly hard work, and we worked amazingly long hours at that time.

Covers of some editions of Origins, along with binders for entire volumes (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Covers of some editions of Origins, along with binders for entire volumes (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

In Origins’ first year, double-sided individual pages had to be stapled together. It was a huge development when, seeing that Origins was drawing some interest and gaining subscribers, the decision was made to take it to a more professional printer and Origins finally began to look like a real publication.

What Origins was in the beginning and what it became were really two different things altogether from the printing and promotion standpoints. In retrospect it is a minor miracle that Origins survived. Nothing was in place at CNS for handling what would become a quite influential publication in the U.S.

But right from the beginning Origins had a somewhat novel editorial approach for its time. Its premise was that readers would receive texts coming from different sources or representing different positions on the same news or pastoral-ministry issue and simply be made aware of what different people were saying about these things.

It was novel, too, to include the margin-note sections in the days before hyperlinks. In the margin-note sections, texts from past Origins editions on a topic discussed in the current week’s edition were listed. In this way the publication had from the beginning a sort of built-in reference system that always kept readers aware of all that was being said on given matters.

Each weekly edition was envisioned from the beginning as part of a larger conversation taking place in the church and in the general society. Origins always attempted to show how discussions of particular issues were ongoing and could be approached from various perspectives (from religious-educational, or social-justice, or pastoral-ministry or liturgical perspectives, for example).

Former special projects editor David E. Gibson and Origins associate editor Mary Esslinger confer in Washington circa 1971. (CNS photo/courtesy Mary Esslinger)

Former special projects editor David Gibson and Origins associate editor Mary Esslinger confer in Washington circa 1971. (CNS photo/courtesy Mary Esslinger)

The greatest joy for me is that all the texts that ever appeared in Origins now are available at www.originsonline.com and can be readily searched by subscribers on any given topic.

In this, as the retired editor of Origins who continues to serve the Catholic press as a freelance writer, I’ll bet I am Origins online’s greatest user. Whatever topic I am asked to write about, I go first to the Origins online archive, quickly searching out pertinent materials and collecting a background file of quotes and texts that help to stimulate my thinking. And guess what, this really works!

In the old days we used to say that Origins made it possible for subscribers always to have the most essential current materials at their very fingertips. And today, as a writer, it seems I always, and quite literally, have Origins at my own fingertips.

Pray for Nepal, flex your ‘compassion muscles’

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief agency and member of Caritas Internationalis, has been training people in Nepal in earthquake-resistant construction to help them rebuild in an effective way and to help them get jobs. (Photo courtesy CRS/Jennifer Hardy)

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief agency and member of Caritas Internationalis, has been training people in Nepal in earthquake-resistant construction to help them rebuild in an effective way and to help them get jobs.
(Photo courtesy CRS/Jennifer Hardy)

By Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle*

KATHMANDU — As I traveled from Kathmandu airport this morning I saw areas affected by last year’s earthquake. I’m in Nepal for the Caritas solidarity conference to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the disaster. As I looked at the countryside, I could almost see the wounds of our Mother Earth.

Cardinal Tagle is welcomed by the staff of Caritas Nepal. (Photo courtesy Michelle Hough, Caritas Internationalis)

Cardinal Tagle is welcomed by the staff of Caritas Nepal. (Photo courtesy Michelle Hough, Caritas Internationalis)

I’ve joined Caritas organizations working on the Nepal emergency in one of the earthquake-affected areas outside the capital. We are here to fill ourselves with courage and knowledge regarding how to best accompany the Nepalese people as they forge their future.

We are also here remember the wounds of our brothers and sisters who survived the earthquake and who now have to rebuild their lives. The risk is, if you forget the wounds inflicted -– on others and on the Earth — you may inflict other injuries.

It’s easy to forget or even ignore the disasters which are the scourge of many countries.  Nepal, Japan and now Ecuador -– these are just some countries hit by recent earthquakes, but there have been many more disasters. When was the last time you thought about the people of Haiti?

We should never tire of seeing the face of Christ in all of the victims of these disasters. This is a challenge, but Pope Francis has given us the opportunity to pump up our “compassion muscles” this year by asking us to focus on mercy. True mercy has no geographical or spiritual boundaries.

Communities here in Nepal are resilient and are trying to rebuild their lives and revive their dreams, but they cannot do it without our help.

Nepalese resident Bal Bahadur Budathoki Chetri, 97, flanked by his grandchildren answers Caritas questions April 8. His house was destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. (Photo courtesy of Matthieu Alexandre, Caritas Internationalis)

Nepalese resident Bal Bahadur Budathoki Chetri, 97, flanked by his grandchildren answers Caritas questions April 8.
His house was destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. (Photo courtesy of Matthieu Alexandre, Caritas Internationalis)

Caritas is love in action and love without borders. We are here in Nepal not just to help rebuild homes and schools, help people get back to work or to ensure their water supply is repaired. We are here to offer hope.

With Nepal we have seen people offering support from all parts of the world. We pray this will continue. We pray that that we will never tire of recognizing and appreciating the signs and wonder that God accomplishes through our small acts of mercy and love so that each new disaster will launch a new wave of solidarity and compassion. Most of all, on this special day of commemoration, we pray for the people of Nepal.

Cardinal Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, is president of Caritas Internationalis.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 24, 2016

"I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." -- John 13:34

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” — John 13:34

 

April 24, Fifth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 14:21-27

      Psalm 145:8-13

      2) Revelation 21:1-5a

      Gospel: John 13:31-33a, 34-35

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges his disciples to take care of one another when he’s gone. But when he says, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” he emphasizes that the love he hopes will remain among them is of an uncommon kind.

For God, love is unconditional and absolute. But for us human beings, it seems, all love isn’t so equal. Nevertheless, Jesus calls us to hold one another in the kind of unconditional love that he has for all of us.

I can understand what Jesus is getting at. The other day, one of my grown children was complaining to me about a sibling — also one of my children, by the way, so I didn’t much like hearing it. In fact, I was stung as though I’d been the object of the criticism myself.

That wasn’t the intention. This child was simply airing out minor family issues. I’d certainly listened to criticisms among the siblings before. No one meant to hurt me or each other, and the complaints always were prefaced by a sincere, “I love (sibling), but …”

I know that. But I wish they’d consider my feelings and see each other through my eyes as a parent, where even when my child goes wrong, I instinctively recognize, love and defend his inherent goodness.

However, such an attitude doesn’t come easily in our daily encounters with others — even friends.

When I catch myself complaining about someone, I often stop because I sense God’s disapproval of my behavior — not out of consideration for his love of that person.

Today’s Scriptures take us beyond morality to living as one of Jesus’ own: loving others not only as he loves me, but also as he loves them.

Revelation’s image of God dwelling with us is of God living and loving his entire human family — being not just my God but our God.

Jesus lived briefly among us in the flesh. Like a parent loving his children and desiring that they embrace each other in that same love after he passes on, Jesus tells his disciples that the world will know they belong to him when they share his unconditional love with one another in every encounter.

QUESTIONS:

Where in your life are you currently experiencing concerns or conflicts involving others? How does trying to see others through God’s eyes change your attitude toward them? How does it change you?

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