Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Mother Teresa and Iraq

I bet few of you know Mother Teresa opened an orphanage in Baghdad after the first Gulf War. The orphanage is called "Dar al-Mahabha," which means "House of Love" in English. The orphanage takes care of 22 handicapped children. It's run by three courageous Indian nuns. The nuns refused to leave Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. They stayed with the children and never went to bomb shelters because it would've been hard to evacuate the handicapped children to the shelters. I salute those three nuns for their commitment to their mission and to those children.

Last week, the insurgents decided to pay a visit to this orphanage. The 22 orphans were playing when a bomb exploded. The bomb was hidden between the sidewalk, on which the residence is located, and a car parked some six meters from the entrance. All the orphanage's windows were shattered except in the room where the children were playing. I think Mother Teresa's spirit was somewhere around that room at the time.

One of the Indian nuns said after the explosion:
What do these innocent children have to do with what is going on?

I think the insurgents want to see how far they can go into the dark side. Lord Voldemort is still ruling their dark souls.

Arabic Word of The Post:

orphan: يتيم - / yateem /
orphans: أيتام - / aytam /

Post Links:
Indian doves fly high in Iraq
Bomb Rattles Catholic Orphanage in Baghdad

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Snowball Started Rolling

You may have noticed I made some changes to my sidebar. I put a section for Fr. Yousif's project and related articles at the top of my sidebar. I believe this project is more important than my personal information, which I pushed beneath that section.

I made an arrangement with Fr. Yousif to wire the money to his account in Jordan at the end of the month. So far, I've collected a gross total amount of $315. It's a small amount. But, it means too much for the people who are trying to make a difference in the new Iraq. I hope more people will contribute to the project.

The most recent good news is that a NGO is willing to pay 30 percent of the project expenses. Fr. Yousif is very happy with the offer. He and his team are studying other offers. He thinks the snowball is rolling faster. I was happy to hear this news from him.

The university may offer some of the courses online. Then students won't need to be on campus while the security situation is bad in Baghdad. I'm really impressed by their logical plans. I was telling a reader, who offered to help with the web hosting and implementation, about the online courses. The reader happened to have worked on the development of the first completely web-distributed class at the University of Arizona in the late 90s. So, I'm either lucky or the snowball is really rolling very fast.

Thank you to the bloggers, who wrote about the project on their blogs. It really helped. I was lucky enough to have the posts live before Arthur published his latest article on his "Opinion Journal" entry. His link to the project introduced many people to the project, who e-mailed me about their efforts to spread the news to their local churches, family and friends.

Thank you to the wonderful people who contributed to the project in different ways without question. It made me happy.

Arabic Word of The Post:

snow: ثلج - / thalij /
rain: مطر - / ma'tar /

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Fr. Yousif - Q&A Session

In response to e-mails I've received since yesterday regarding Fr. Yousif Thomas, I'll answer the questions publicly to benefit everyone who reads this blog. Thank you for the debate in these e-mails. I hope I didn't upset anyone with my replies. If I did, I send my apology.

This weekend's events in Iraq are taking a toll on Fr. Yousif emotionally. He would like me to coordinate project-related inquiries from this end. Please, pray for things to get better soon. Also, our wonderful Ghaith got wounded yesterday. That's the life of photojournalists.

  • Q: Why I'm so passionate about this project?

    A: Since the attacks on the Iraqi churches last August, more than 40,000 Iraqi Christians left the country. This community is not feeling safe under the continuous harassment from Al-Mahdi army and other thugs. Our only weapon is education and tolerance. That's how we survived for hundreds of years among our fellow Muslim citizens.

    Those people need your help. Yesterday, in a surprise move, Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk asked the American people to help the Iraqi Christian community. His message tells me this community is very desperate for your help.

  • Q: Can you post more information about the Popular University Project?

    A: I posted the proposal for the university here. It's a very long document. I hope you can at least scan it if you don't have enough time to read the whole document.

  • Q: What difference would my $10-$25 make to this project considering the high cost of the project?

    A: Each drop of water counts toward filling the ocean. That's all I can say.

  • Q: How can we help other than financially?

    A: The university needs books, a website and a hosting server. If you can help with any of the these things, it will make Fr. Thomas' life easier.

    You can tell your church pastor about the project. You can post it on your blog and other blogs who may have an interest in this kind of subject.

  • Q: How can I contact Fr. Yousif Thomas?

    A: Fr. Yousif Thomas sent me an e-mail today to coordinate all project-related inquiries from this end. So, please forward your inquiries to me and if I can't answer them, I'll e-mail Fr. Yousif for advice. Thank you.

  • Q: Where to find more articles by Fr. Yousif Thomas?

    A: If you Google "yousif thomas" (with quotes), you'll find other articles and mentions of him. I have his complete lectures on tapes in Arabic. I'm not sure if he translated them to English or French.

  • Q: Where can I find Christian Thought magazine?

    A: The magazine has a Web site. It's new and needs more development. But, it's a good start. They post in Arabic, English and French. The Web site also needs technical help from volunteers.

Arabic Word of The Post:

question: سؤال - / sou-'aal /
answer: جواب - / jawab /

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Father Yousif Thomas - Part III

Please, read part I and part II of this subject before you continue reading this post. Thank you.

I'm going to put this in simple words as I'm not sure how many people are interested in this subject. I promised Fr. Yousif to ask for help from my readers. He needs help for the magazine and the Popular University. Your help can be financial or educational. I hope you can assist him either way.

Fr. Yousif sent me the full proposal of the university. If you're interested in more details before you commit to help, e-mail me and I'll send you the document. If you want to e-mail Fr. Yousif to further discuss this subject, e-mail me and I'll send you his e-mail address. I don't want to put his e-mail address on this post as I know how spammers work.

On the right sidebar of my blog you'll find the donation button. You can pledge your donation using that button. Please, send me an e-mail notifying me the money is for Fr. Yousif.

Thank you in advance for any help you can offer. Let's all try to help.

university: جامعة - / ja-mee'a /
universities: جامعات - / ja-mee-at /

Monday, September 06, 2004

Father Yousif Thomas - Part II

Please, read part I of this subject before you continue reading this post. Thank you.

The article continues with Fr. Yousif Thomas thoughts:
Thirty-five years of a Baathist dictatorship have changed the Christians of Iraq in a very deep way. Our Dominican priest tells us in a matter-of-fact and frank way, "It's not right to claim that Saddam Hussein supported the Christians. But it was certainly true that he, like most other dictators, used the fears of a small community to manipulate them so cleverly that he seemed to be their protector!"

During the last 20 years some 250,000 Christians, a quarter of the Iraqi Christian population, have left the country and most of them after the Gulf War in 1991.

"The 'flower' of the Christian population has emigrated and the ones who are left have fallen from a good life to poverty. When it comes to me, I've lived during the repression of this regime since my youth. As I had the great privilege of pursuing my studies in France, I was able to acquire a culture that has given me a point of reference in my life. I've constantly been trying to go against the stream encouraging people to stay on in their home-country instead of 'running away.'"

"All through these years I've preferred to stay in the background in order not to have to make serious concessions to a very powerful state machine. During those years of repression we were not allowed to have satellite dishes and our phones were being tapped. The censorship was harsh on our magazine. Every new issue gave me knots in my stomach when I knew that there was some word that could rub the authorities the wrong way. To me the poster with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a way of healing people from fear!"

As an all-time visionary, Fr. Yousif Thomas is now all afire for a new project with a completely different scope; that of "recreating people's souls and spirits." His dream is to create a "Popular University" in Baghdad that will give courses in the humanities. These courses will be held on five afternoons of the week.

So what is the goal of this?

"It is to train a new generation of leaders," he said.

"Knowledge is something that will save us, and it cannot be imitated and taken in a superficial way. It must be received as something that will affect body, soul and mind. The generation between ages 20 to 50 years, which hasn't known anything except Saddam Hussein, has already been destroyed and it has been thrown into a cultural void. Now we must give them the means of analyzing themselves and the way they are living and eventually give them the true meaning of their existence."

Fr Yousif Thomas' Popular University will not be asking for any fees and will be open to "all adults regardless of social or religious status and with no personal restrictions nor fear for taboos." Yes, this "University of St. Thomas Aquinas for Humanistic Studies" will teach philosophy, psychology, history, the history of religions, languages, the history of languages, linguistics and sociology. In this way, the Dominican Fathers of Iraq will be able to continue to develop and also make use of their extensive experience with "Theological Circles" held for 20 years in both Baghdad and Mosul. Now the most pressing need is to find the funding estimated to USD $2.1 million.

The Christian community certainly is in a state of change. Despite almost daily attacks from cells of criminals and local mafias that take people hostage this Christian community already shows signs of newly won vitality. It's not a coincidence that during the last 10 years the Dominican Fathers of Iraq have tripled their numbers.

At the end of the month of August this year, four young people will start their monastic training and formation. On our short visit to Iraq we also met up with Alhan Nahab, 30, and Anwar Nadhim, 42, who are two very active lay-people in the church. Their "House of Bethany" has just celebrated its 10th anniversary as a home for severely handicapped women.

Qais Isa Goga, 35, is a young Christian artist, who has just defended his doctoral thesis on "The Architecture of the Christian Monasteries and Convents in Iraq." Rita Hikmat Audish, 21, graduated as a scholarship student in Trieste in Italy and is now looking forward to further her studies at the University of Louisiana.

By launching a "new way of thinking," Fr. Yousif Thomas is going against the usual trend among Middle Eastern Christians in general and Iraqi Christians in particular to constantly be on the defensive and lose sight of their objectives and very often eventually give in to their desire of running away from this part of the world altogether.

Francois d'Alancon concludes the article with the following statistics regarding the Christian Iraqi community:
Iraq counts a Christian population of 800,000 to a million out of a population of 24 million. It is very diverse and among the churches you find the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East (both better known as Assyrians or sometimes Nestorians) as well as a small minority of Evangelicals. The number of Christians hasn't stopped declining since the Gulf War in 1991, when there were 1.2 million Christians in the country. The newly appointed government counts one representative from the Christian community, Ms Pascale Isho, Minister of Emigration and the Displaced.

I hope these two posts answer many questions I frequently receive by e-mail. There's more to come. Actually, the next post is the most important post for me and Fr. Yousif regarding his project. I had to split this subject into more than one post so I could get your attention.

To be continued in the next post.

Father: أب - / ebb /
Joseph: يوسف - / yousif /

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Father Yousif Thomas - Part I

There are five people who influenced my Catholic beliefs during the years. These people are:
Pope John II
Mother Teresa
Father Gatt, my church's pastor in Sydney
Monsignor Glenn Duffy Gardner, my church's pastor in Dallas
Father Yousif Thomas from Baghdad

Father Yousif Thomas has been my inspiration for many years. He's someone who describes himself as "a person who swims against the tides." He has:
Ph.D. degree in Theology (University of Strasbourg - France)
M Sc. degree in Ethnology (College of Nanter-Paris 10 - France)

Father Yousif Thomas is the editor-in-chief of "Christian Thought" magazine published by the Dominican Friars in Iraq. As far as I know, it's the only Christian magazine published under Saddam's regime. Fr. Thomas still lives in Iraq. I've corresponded with him by e-mail for more than a week now. I needed his words to assure me there's hope left for the Iraqi people in general and Iraqi Christians specifically. I took his permission to publish his thoughts about the future. These thoughts were part of an article written by Francois d'Alancon:

"Last summer after having spent some weeks in France I said to myself: 'The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is something very nice, but how much do people know of its contents?'" said Father Yousif Thomas Mirkis, a Dominican priest, in charge of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Joseph and the editor of the Alfikr-AlMasihi" (Christian Thought) Magazine in Baghdad. To find out for himself Fr. Yousif Thomas started a small inquiry among some well-selected Christians and Muslims.

"It was shocking to realize that not even one of these people had ever read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations back in 1948," he said. "As a result of this, we decided to get in touch with the Iraqi Minister of the recently created ministry of Human Rights and asked him to distribute the text of this same Declaration, of which Iraq was a co-signatory."
"Certain articles had been put aside, like the right to choose where to live within a state, or the right for a man and a woman to get married" explains Fr. Yousif Thomas. "The Iraqi Minister of Human Rights told us that he was considering an adaptation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which would suit Iraq, something like a Charter of Iraqi Human Rights."

Fr. Yousif Thomas, 55, didn't allow himself to be discouraged by the response at the Ministry, but instead decided to take it upon himself to publish the Arabic version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a poster.

"I made a print-run of 14,000 copies, of which I mailed 10,000 to our subscribers as a supplement to our Christmas edition of AlFikr-AlMasihi. Some weeks later on we received news that the poster was hanging on walls all over the University of Baghdad. The text has even been seen on walls of several mosques, although the name of our magazine has at times been crossed out. A few months later two employees of the Ministry of Education came to tell me that they were interested in seeing 'my' poster take the place of the portrait of the former president Saddam Hussein in primary schools in the Baghdad region. This would be done in an effort to promote the teaching of Civics at these schools. I willingly gave them 1,000 copies."

Fr. Yousif Thomas' personal initiative ought to encourage other Christians to take an active role in the building of the new Iraq.

"Since the fall of the former regime, the Iraqi Christians have had to face up to the challenge of freedom and liberty. We must experience the necessity of taking personal initiatives without expecting the state to do everything for us. It's very difficult to go through the experience of having been totally dependent on the state and then suddenly becoming totally independent. But not only this, we are also facing tremendous challenges when it comes to new structures, and with the opportunities of dialogue and even discussion between people of different opinions, as well as being able to hold meetings and seminars where we must accept that people think differently. For many years we have been isolated from the rest of the world and we must start to reopen our relations with the outside world. During the last 35 years we as people were brought back to the Stone Age. So, by now, most people don't even understand why they need to change. The perversities of the old regime created us into people who were completely dependent on the State, like sheep following blindly. The price we have had to pay is very high: We were told 'Do not think. We will do the thinking for you.' Just like the slogan of the years of Stalin 'Just try some more, comrades!' we had fallen into a society that was depressive. Today when people tell me; 'Earlier it was so much better when the government decided everything for us.' Then I tell them; 'Today it's up to us to take the decisions'."

To be continued in the next post.

Arabic Word of The Post:

church : كنيسة - / kanee-sa /
churches : كنائس - / kana-iss /