1. Christians in Iraq are ‘on the brink of extinction.’ Here’s what faith groups are doing to fix that.

By Paul Singer, USA TODAY, August 21, 2017, Pg. 4

Stephen Rasche says the next six weeks will be critical for saving some of the world’s oldest Christian communities from extinction.

Rasche is coordinating a task force trying to return tens of thousands of Christian families to the ancient Iraqi towns from which they were driven by ISIS three years ago.

U.S. and Iraqi forces drove ISIS out of the region last fall, but the string of historic Christian towns in the northern tip of Iraq that have now been liberated stand in varying states of destruction. The towns now face a “critical need over these next 60 days at the latest — really at the end of September — to get in enough work and enough of a core group of the population back so that it can demonstrate a viability for the recovery of the town,” said Rasche, who works for the Catholic Archdiocese of Irbil and is now chief coordinator of a newly formed Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, a coalition of the major Christian denominations in the region.

“Christianity in Iraq is on the brink of extinction. They have gone from 1.5 million people to somewhere south of 200,000,” said Andrew Walther, the U.S-based vice president of communications for the Knights of Columbus, which recently announced a $2 million infusion to rebuild the town of Karemles. “With the new school year coming and these towns having now been liberated (from ISIS), people’s attitude is ‘well, we are either going to return home now or we are going to leave forever.’ ”

Walther and others who have advocated on behalf of the Iraqi Christians say the Obama administration was reluctant to address their plight.

“The archdiocese of Irbil has received no direct government funding from the U.S. or U.N.,” Walther said. He blamed the Obama administration’s “mindset” that “people get aid on basis of immediate need only, and the rationale is that you don’t want to discriminate against any individual.” While that principle makes some sense, Walther said, it does not take into account the prospect that an entire community might be extinguished.

Walther of the Knights of Columbus said helping the Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities is not just a humanitarian mandate — “it is also important in order to ensure that ISIS’ program of genocide and religious cleansing is not successful, even after they are defeated militarily.”


2. Pope: Rights of migrants trump national security concerns.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, August 21, 2017, 7:06 AM

Pope Francis urged countries on Monday to greatly improve their welcome to migrants and stop any collective expulsions, saying migrants’ dignity and right to protection trumps national security concerns.

Francis’ politically pointed message was made in view of the Catholic Church’s 2018 world refugee day, celebrated Jan. 14. It comes amid mounting anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe following waves of migrant arrivals and Islamic extremist attacks.

In the message, Francis demanded governments welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants, saying Jesus’ message of love is rooted in welcoming the “rejected strangers of every age.”

He demanded an increased and simplified process of granting humanitarian and temporary visas and rejected arbitrary and collective expulsions as “unsuitable.”

Ignoring critics who say his calls are unrealistic and naive, Francis insisted in the new message that border guards must be trained to protect migrants and that each new arrival, regardless of legal status, must be guaranteed access to basic services beyond basic health care.

That extends to guaranteeing access to consulates, the justice system and the ability to open a bank account and survive financially, he said.

Unaccompanied minors, he said, require even greater protection, including guaranteeing them citizenship and access to schooling, as well as foster programs rather than detention centers.

He called for policies that support family reunification, employment opportunities and accelerated citizenship procedures to improve migrants’ abilities to integrate in their new countries.


3. Pro-life Democrat says abortion issue may cost party seats in midterms.

By Sally Persons, The Washington Times, August 21, 2017, Pg. A4

Democrats’ reluctance to recruit pro-life candidates could hinder them as they try to win enough seats to retake the U.S. House next year, according to a pro-life party leader.

Kristen Day, executive chairwoman of Democrats for Life of America, said the national party’s stance has almost certainly cost it the chance to make a run at the seat that covers Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and said there are likely other places as well where a Democrat would be more competitive if he or she held pro-life views.

Analysts were reluctant to put a number on how many districts might swing with a pro-life Democratic candidate, but said House seats in the north and upper Midwest are exactly the kinds of places where the issue could be playing a role in Democrats’ struggles.

Republicans are generally a pro-life party but have been less insistent about that as a litmus test. Democrats, however, have struggled over how vehemently to enforce their pro-choice stance.

Liberal activist groups urged financial boycotts of the DCCC and told pro-choice donors to make sure their money went to pro-choice candidates or political action committees that would only back those candidates.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said last week that there’s no need to open the party up, claiming that some of the most Republican districts in the country are actually overwhelmingly pro-choice.

The Pew Research Center’s latest polling shows Democrats are more unified, with 75 percent saying abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared to 22 percent who say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Among the GOP, 34 percent says it should generally be legal, while 65 percent says mostly or completely illegal.


4. Thousands of South Sudanese find refuge in Cathedral.

By Catholic News Agency, August 20, 2017, 3:02 AM

As the civil war in South Sudan heightens, millions are fleeing their homes for safer ground, which many have found at St. Mary Help of Christian’s Cathedral in Wau, the country’s second largest city.

South Sudan has been in the middle of a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years, which has divided the young country between those loyal to its President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Reik Machar. The conflict has also bred various divisions of militia and opposition groups.

Since the beginning of the war, around 4 million citizens have left the violence-stricken country, in hopes of finding peace, food and work. This week, neighboring Uganda received the one-millionth South Sudanese refugee, highlighting the crisis as the world’s fastest growing refugee epidemic.

For those who have not fled the nation, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) are seeking refuge in churches – including St. Mary’s Cathedral, which is the country’s largest church and is located Wau. Over 10,000 people now seek shelter there.

Despite successful partnerships between the local church, aid agencies and government, the refugees are still in need of a proper supply of food. However, the church has made recent upgrades, including water pumps, toilets, classrooms, and health offices, which were set up by international aid agencies.

While St. Mary’s may feel like a safe haven for many, the war rages on only 20 miles from the city. Local relief workers have faced various threats, and security at the church consists of only one guard.


5. Vatican delegate: Every indication Medjugorje will be recognized, perhaps later this year.

By Crux, August 19, 2017

A Polish archbishop appointed by Pope Francis to study the pastoral situation surrounding Medjugorje says the apparitions in the Bosnian town could be recognized by the Vatican later this year.

Archbishop Henryk Hoser was appointed by the pope in February to study the pastoral care given to the town’s residents and visiting pilgrims.

The city is a pilgrimage hub because of the reported apparitions, with millions arriving each year to climb the Mount Podbrdro, a steep and rock-strewn path that ascends to the actual location where the Virgin allegedly first appeared, and at times is believed to continue to do so.


6. Stepping, Not Stuck: A documentary about three African-American girls in Baltimore is worth watching.

By Grazie Pozo Christie, senior policy advisor for The Catholic Association, US News & World Report, August 16, 2017, 4:00 PM

Most movies offer viewers an escape from humdrum reality and entrance into a world of adventure or romantic glamour. “Step,” a documentary playing in theaters now, is a movie about escape – that of African American girls from the chaos and difficulty of their urban society into a brighter future.

Challenges abound for these young women, including the still lingering undercurrents of racism in some parts of American society, which was vividly driven home, for anyone who still needed a reminder, by the horrific events in Charlottesville.

But this movie is exhilarating and uplifting, giving viewers a sensitive and heartfelt glimpse of young African-American womanhood and the dedicated teachers and advocates who believe fully in their potential.

Perhaps one of the most depressing (and revealing) aspects of the documentary is the almost complete absence of men in the personal lives of these girls and mothers. The husband and father has been so long absent that his nonexistence is taken for granted.

The girls in the documentary are awfully fortunate, though. Their coach, teachers and counselors have faith in them. At a school like this they can learn vital habits and virtues like respect for themselves and for others, persistence, fortitude and the nobility of hard work and sacrifice. The film-maker’s gentle touch and probing style, showing us the process of growth and achievement and the love that surrounds these young women makes this a wonderfully satisfying film.

It’s clear that rather than “stuck,” these girls can be their unstoppable selves on the stage sassily stomping and in life: strong, capable and proud.