Father Ragheed Ganni’s Cause for Canonization Officially Opened

The Vatican has formally opened the canonization cause of Iraqi Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and three deacons who were gunned down in Mosul in 2007. 

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, confirmed in a March 1 letter released on Monday that the Vatican had no objection to starting the process of canonization of Father Ganni and Deacons Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho and Gassan Isam Bidawid. 

A group of armed Islamist fighters shot dead the four men near the Chaldean Holy Spirit church where Father Ganni was parish priest. He had just celebrated Mass there on Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, on June 3, 2007. 

As they were walking away from the church, the armed men stopped them, warned Father Ganni to close the church and demanded to know why he had not done so. Father Ganni replied: “How can I close the house of God?” 

The gunmen ordered Deacon Isho’s wife to flee, demanded that the four men convert to Islam and when they refused, took their lives. The car was then rigged with explosives to prevent the bodies being recovered, but a bomb disposal team managed to defuse the devices, allowing the corpses to be buried. 

Thousands of people attended the funeral of the four men in nearby Karemlash the following day. “The example and witness of Father Ragheed inspired me from the moment I heard of his martyrdom, one of so many noble martyrs of the great new persecution in the Middle East,” said Father Benedict Kiely, founder of the charity for persecuted Christians, Nasarean.org. 

By chance, both Father Kiely and I came across Father Ganni’s tomb when we visited Karemlash last year. ISIS had ransacked Karemlash, Father Ganni’s hometown, during their occupation from 2014-2016. They vandalized Father Ganni’s tombstone but left his resting place untouched. 

Father Kiely recalled that to walk into the desecrated church last year and discover his tomb “was a beautiful blessing and sign from Heaven to continue to remind the world of the suffering Christians in the cradle of Christianity.” 

The Vatican’s confirmation to open the cause, released by the official media of the Chaldean Patriarchate, came in response to a request to open the cause from Chaldean Bishop Francis Yohana Kalabat of St. Thomas the Apostle in Detroit last November, the pontifical news agency Agenzia Fides reported May 14. 

The Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit would be handling the process due to persistent difficult conditions in Mosul, Agenzia Fides said. Father Ganni was well known in Rome, having completed a licentiate here at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and having resided at the Pontifical Irish College where he used to play soccer. 

Fluent in Aramaic, Arabic, Italian, French, and English, he also served as a correspondent for Asia News, the international agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. The Chaldean priest expressed his opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, fearing that Iraqi Christians would be targeted and persecuted. 

In a telegram sent on behalf of Benedict XVI in 2007, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said Father Ganni’s sacrifice would “inspire in the hearts of all men and women of good will a renewed resolve to reject the ways of hatred and violence, to conquer evil with good and to cooperate in hastening the dawn of reconciliation, justice and peace in Iraq.” 

Father Ganni also served as secretary to Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, who himself was murdered in the city, only nine months after Father Ganni. 

by Edward Pentin

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Mosul's Great Mosque to be restored to its former glory

When the Al-Nouri Mosque and the adjacent al-Hadba minaret in Mosul were bombed by the Islamic State (IS) on June 21, 2017, many thought that the landmark mosque and its “hunchback” minaret most famous for its leaning structure were gone for good. But today, there is some hope of restoring both structures. 

The reconstruction of the mosque and the minaret will start in June, said Nofal Sultan al-Akoub, the governor of Iraq’s northern province of Ninevah, on May 6. The announcement follows a protocol signed April 23 between Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, where the latter would commit $50.4 million over five years for the reconstruction of the mosque that dates from the 12th century. 

UNESCO is also a signatory to the reconstruction agreement. The mosque is an important symbol for Mosul, and it was used in 2014 as the venue where Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and militants proclaimed a caliphate. Three years later, IS fighters blew it to pieces weeks before their defeat. 

The minaret, which was one of the few remaining parts of the original construction, is less known to the international world. It had a design often attributed to Iranian architectural influence, with a white plastered top. It had a significant lean since the 14th century, and its likeness can be found on 10,000-dinar bills.

The main questions on the renovation are whether the amount allocated, which is one of the largest sums committed for a restoration project in Iraq, will be enough and whether the reconstruction will be successful. Mohammed Nouri al-Abed Rabbo, a parliament member from Ninevah, told Al-Monitor that the next phase would be to take bids for the reconstruction after the government agencies finalised the contract and the blueprints for the work required. 

Abed Rabbo added that the reconstruction process “needs more funding than what has been allocated by the UAE.” Pointing out that the monument was essentially razed to the ground, he said that great architectural skills would be required for the reconstruction, and UNESCO — the cultural arm of the UN — would need to be involved. 

“There have been efforts since the liberation of Mosul to clean the mosque of explosive devices, remove rubble, document the destruction and collect the damaged authentic relics. The area was cordoned off to prevent the loss of the remaining relics from the minaret and the mosque,” Abed Rabbo added. 

Mosul Mayor Zuhair Muhssein al-Araji told Al-Monitor via phone that the reconstruction plan was developed following discussions and meetings with UNESCO. These meetings have taken up costs and conducted feasibility studies. He said he expected the construction to take at least four years. 

“The implementation process is likely to take a long time, as it is a large area. Given its great historical importance, the work needs to be meticulous. We need to study the available historical data so it can be restored to its original architecture,” Araji added. 

According to professor of modern history at Mosul University Ibrahim al-Allaf, Nur al-Din al-Zanki — who ruled Mosul — "ordered the building of the mosque [and its minaret] in A.D. 1172." Allaf said the mosque had been damaged many times in its history. “The Iraqi Department of Antiquities dismantled and rebuilt the mosque in 1942 as part of a renovation campaign,” Allaf told Al-Monitor. 

“Al-Hadba minaret is the only remaining feature of the original building of the mosque. Due to its historical value, the minaret has been printed on Iraqi banknotes.” Leafing through the documents he held on the minaret, Allaf said of its structure: 

“The minaret was 55 meters high [although there are different accounts of its height], while the mosque area is about 6,000 square meters. The minaret’s base is large, and it features Islamic decorations on its four facades. The building of the entire mosque cost at the time 60,000 dinars of gold.” 

Louise Haxthausen, the UNESCO director for Iraq, said at the press conference April 23 that the “reconstruction of the minaret is an ambitious project that carries major symbolism for the liberation of Mosul.” 

The head of Iraq's Parliamentary Committee on Media and Culture, Maysoon al-Damluji, who is from Mosul, told Al-Monitor that the National Authority for Antiquities and Heritage will be involved in the restoration, and that she hoped archaeologists and architects from Mosul would be involved. 

“The reconstruction project will not only address the physical and structural aspects of the building, but also highlight the cultural and artistic heritage such as the decorations, ornaments, inscriptions and writings,” Damluji said. She urged the authorities to be careful "not to damage the remaining relics during the removal of rubble and the works on the site.” 

Meanwhile, Ahmed Kassem al-Juma, a retired professor from the University of Mosul and a UNESCO Islamic monuments and archaeology expert based in Mosul, told Al-Monitor, “No matter how meticulous and careful the work to restore the relics is, the restored building will not bear the same value of the original that was blown up by IS.” 

“The minaret and the mosque were characterised by fine technical details such as the marble pillars of the praying room, the cubic crowns, the strip engraved with words from the Quranic verses, as well as the mosque’s mihrab ornamented with arabesque decorations carved on marble,” Juma added. 

He said, “The summer prayer mihrab (the outdoor niche in the wall where the imam stands to conduct prayers) is made of marble. It is currently at the National Museum in Baghdad.” Juma accompanied the UNESCO delegation that toured the site before the launch of the project. 

“I keep all the documents, blueprints and drawings of the mosque with all its parts, the architectural details, measurements and maps of the original locations,” he said. 

“I worked for a full year in a field survey of the minaret and the mosque before IS entered Mosul in 2014. I documented the details of the mosque and the ceramic construction units with more than 500 sketches and technical drawings,” Juma said, adding, "The mosque has great moral, social and religious significance, as it has been in the past … the place to hold meetings and gatherings for religious and official public events.” 

Adnan Abu Zeed is an Iraqi author and journalist. He holds a degree in engineering technology from Iraq and a degree in media techniques from the Netherlands.

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UNICEF thanks people of the Netherlands for their support to education for children in Iraq

UNICEF Iraq and the Government of the Netherlands have signed an agreement of US$ 6.2 million to support Education for children of refugees, IDP’s and families returning home after the war. 

The agreement forms part of the new Government of the Netherlands policy to provide targeted support for refugees and displaced persons in the affected locations, including decent education for children in displacement. 

Over three years, the Government of Netherlands and UNICEF will enable 150,000 displaced, refugee, and host community children living in camps or returning to retaken areas have access to education. 

Due to conflict, two million Iraqi IDPs and nearly a quarter of a million Syrian refugees are still not able to return home. Violence has disrupted learning for more than 3.5 million children who are estimated to be out of school, attending irregularly, or to have lost years of schooling. 

The programme will improve access to education for IDP and refugee children focusing on areas most affected by conflict and violence such as Al-Anbar, Dohuk, Kirkuk, and Ninewa by establishment or rehabilitation of schools. 

It will also support improvements in quality of learning by encouraging a participatory School Based Management approach that engages teachers, parents, and local communities more directly in children’s education, equipping them with skills to identify and implement positive changes in their local schools. 

Further, at least 5,000 teachers will be trained in updated teaching methods, life skills, citizenship education, and psychosocial support. “Helping children to access improved quality education will not only ensure recovery today but support a better future for all children” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Iraq. 

Marielle Geraedts, Deputy Ambassador of the Netherlands Embassy to Iraq recently visited schools in IDP and refugee camps as well as for returning families in Mosul and the host community in Dohuk: 

“I have seen with my own eyes how big the burden is that schools carry. Schools sometimes run at double capacity to provide education to returning or still displaced families. Furthermore, it is really concerning that approximately half of the Syrian refugees in Iraq are currently not able to go to school. The new Dutch government is proud that through this contribution we can support better access to learning for some of the most vulnerable children in Iraq.” 

The devastating conflict in Iraq has damaged education infrastructure and weakened local capacity to deliver quality services. This has led to chronic shortages of schools, trained teachers, and learning materials, and has magnified children’s deprivations, making the right to education a dream for many.

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#ArabAmerica: Dearborn soccer program caters to refugee children

To Abbas Al-Wishah, the melting pot starts with children of various nationalities circling the nucleus of a soccer ball. 

The resulting energy will forge a pathway to a better future for the players pursuing the ball, if not foster cultural understanding for any bystanders caught up in the action. 

The one-time Iraqi refugee turned successful engineering manager will see to it. Al-Wishah runs Dearborn-based nonprofit Michigan Futball Club, which helps kids ages 7-19 through soccer and education stay clear of drugs and crime. 

Many include refugee children from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Somalia. The group often meets at the soccer fields on Greenfield and Michigan avenues in Dearborn, three times a week, and at the Henry Ford Centennial Library to do homework or prep for the ACT or SAT. 

“I take a lot of pride in the kids,” said Al-Wishah, who is an engineering manager at TE Connectivity. “The most passionate time in the day is when I coach them.” 

On a Wednesday afternoon, Al-Wishah is all business with a group of children ages 7-10 who are formed in a tight circle going through calisthenics. Another group of older boys play a 7-on-7 game overseen by a volunteer. 

One boy ambles up to join in. “When practice is 5:30 and you show up at 5:37, is that good or bad?” Al-Wishah sternly asks the boy, who stands before him. “Bad,” the boy says with his head contritely bowed. 

Al-Wishah whisks him into the proceedings. 

The Iraqi native came to the U.S. in 1993 after the Persian Gulf War when he was 9. His family settled in Erie, Pa., where his no-frills father put strict boundaries between sport and education. 

“He said, ‘It’s either food on the table or your soccer program. Here’s a soccer ball, go play in the backyard,’” Al-Wishah said. Al-Wishah played at Strong Vincent High School before the family resettled in the Dearborn area. 

He studied at Wayne State University, which didn’t have a Division I soccer program. He initially coached kids for money but eschewed all that to start Michigan FC as soon “as the situation started in Iraq and Syria” nearly three years ago. 

The nonprofit formed in January 2017 and has served more than 100 youths. “I’d rather take care of these kids than do it for money,” he said. “People told me I was crazy and they told me, ‘You can’t do it because people will be blocking you.'” 

Al-Wishah said he’s received “a little bit” of pushback, citing a nine-month effort to have Michigan FC become guest members in the Western Suburban Soccer League. He’s found the process frustrating, sharing a letter outlining numerous stipulations — including requirements there be a certified referee assignor and verification of reliable transportation — that need to be met. 

Player registration, for example, can be onerous due to some participants being refugees. “If he’s born in America, it is a walk in the park,” he said. “If he’s born outside, I have to provide, everything ... documentation, and it’s a mountain of paperwork.” 

Michigan FC’s plight has led to an unlikely partnership. 

On the transportation front, Dearborn Free Methodist Church offered a minivan after Al-Wishah struck up a friendship with the lead pastor the Rev. Erick Ewaskowitz. 

The pair crossed paths through a mutual friend at an indoor soccer facility where the church was holding a tournament for refugee children. The church was using the donated Mercury van to help transport women from refugee families in its English as a Second Language program. 

Many of those ESL students now have driver’s licenses, which made the vehicle available. “He comes from one angle of faith and I come from another,” said Ewaskowitz, “and yet we’re able to find some common ground.” 

The pastor has met Al-Wishah twice over coffee and had him over for dinner at his home. Al-Wishah’s community involvement is inspiring on a couple of fronts, Ewaskowitz said. 

For one, the Iraqi immigrant diminishes the pain and shock he went through as a refugee in early 1990s, especially compared to trauma endured by the recent events that brought the children that he now coaches, the pastor said.

Al-Wishah’s unassuming nature is also striking. 

“He could very easily say, ‘Hey, I’ve made it. I arrived and I’m going to live the American dream,'” Ewaskowitz said. “But he’s using what he's gained for himself to give back and to serve these kids and these families. These are kids he can resonate with. He knows what they’ve gone through.” 

Michigan FC’s Murtadha Altdahabi and five members of his family were forced to flee what became ISIS-held Baghdad, Iraq four years ago. The family had applied to come to the U.S. in 2010 but didn’t get accepted until 2014. 

Altdahabi would have graduated by now with exception of his education transcripts being left behind when his family fled Iraq. 

“By the time I got accepted to America, I lost everything,” said Altdahabi, 19, who attends Dearborn Fordson. Altdahabi, who is a striker on Fordson High’s soccer team, is captain for Michigan FC where he mentors younger players. 

He’s awaiting his results from his SAT, which he prepared for with help from University of Michigan and Oakland University tutors during Michigan FC study sessions. 

He wants to play in Major League Soccer. 

“That’s my dream,” said Altdahabi, who like Al-Wishah is a Shiite Muslim. “If I play at college, I’m still playing soccer. I don’t mind.” Al-Wishah wants Michigan FC to foment soccer dreams but he sees himself morphing into a social worker. 

He finds himself giving advice to refugee families on such things as how to establish a credit score or what’s required to obtain a W2. He’s even taken them to Sears Outlet to buy discount appliances. 

“It’s not just soccer; I know these people individually,” he said. “Some of these families … I know where they are from, what types of issues they face. If they had a relative pass away in front of them in war and how it has impacted them. 

“A majority are people who just want to move on.”  

While Michigan FC's mission is to help low-income and refugee families, the program is also open to those kids whose parents believe in the cause and are willing to help. 

Aziz Aghbalou, whose son Elias, 10, takes part, is appreciative the program is bereft of the profit motive that seemingly drives many youth soccer initiatives. “It’s all about the community,” said Aghbalou, a Dearborn Heights resident. 

“It gets the kids together and provides a healthy environment.” Mounara Hachem’s son Hadi didn’t even like soccer at first. Since learning about Michigan FC a year ago through a friend at Dearborn’s Maples Elementary, the 10-year-old’s hooked. 

“He comes home and says, ‘He works us so hard,’” Hachem said. “He likes being here. He likes it more this year. He couldn’t wait to get here. “(Al-Wishah) is very good with the kids. He’s a very good trainer.”

by Larry O'Connor

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Resettled refugee, ISIS attack survivor finds hope in boxing

Growing up in Baghdad, Mohammed A. dreamed of travelling the world as a professional boxer, but struggled to secure a visa to leave the country. When ISIS spread into Iraq, he began helping his brother in his work as a U.S. Army interpreter. 

But after he says he suffered an attack on his life, Mohammed eventually fled Iraq and joined other refugees who were resettled in Tukwila, Washington, where he's now studying to be an EMT and continues to box.


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Baroness Emma Nicholson gives support to AMAR on the Manchester 10K

Baroness Emma Nicholson, chairperson of the AMAR Foundation and member of the House of Lords, has given her support for Hussein Al-alak, ahead of the Manchester 10K. 

Hussein is running to aid the work of AMAR in Iraq. The charity was founded by Britain's Baroness Nicholson twenty-five years ago. 

In 2017, Hussein joined Baroness Nicholson in London, where fundraising efforts helped secure the construction of AMAR's Bazwaya Health Centre in Mosul, which now serves over 15,000 people. 

This is the second time that Hussein Al-alak will run the Manchester 10K for the AMAR Foundation, whose award winning work in Iraq, has witnessed developments in health, education and mental health. 

If you wish to support Hussein on Sunday's 10K run through Manchester, on the 20th May 2018, you can do so by sponsoring him through the donate button on the AMAR Foundation's website.

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#ArabAmerica: 'What We Carried' Tells Story of Iraqi, Syrian Refugees

“What We Carried: Fragments and Memories from Iraq and Syria” will be on view at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo, from May 19 to Aug. 5. 

Since 2003, several million Iraqis and Syrians have left their war-torn homes and relocated in hopes of creating a better future for themselves and their families. Approximately 140,000 of these refugees have immigrated to the U.S., the majority with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a small memento to remind them of home. 

“What We Carried” documents the life-changing journey of these refugees and sheds light on the trials and tribulations they experienced in their search for stability. Renowned freelance photographer and author Jim Lommasson invited Iraqi and Syrian refugees to share a personal item significant to their travels to America, such as a family snapshot, heirloom dish, or childhood toy. 

He photographed each artifact and then returned a 13″ x 19″ archival print to each participant so that they could write directly on the image to explain why they chose this item, above all others, to remind them of the lives they left behind. All texts are presented in both Arabic and English. 

The exhibition touches upon the resiliency of refugees from the Arab world and what it means to be displaced, leave everything behind, and start a new life in a new country. This theme echoes one found in discussions of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II, when prisoners were allowed to bring “only what they could carry.” 

Just as “Common Ground: The Heart of Community” and other JANM exhibitions strive to break down stereotypes, provide real insight into the struggles faced by Japanese Americans, and create cross-cultural empathy, “What We Carried” aims to do the same by sharing the personal stories of Iraqi and Syrian immigrants and the adversity they have experienced. 

The combination of carried objects and intensely personal stories illustrate the common threads that bind all of humanity: love for family, friendship, and the places people call home. 

“What We Carried” is an ongoing project. Since 2010, Lommasson has worked directly with Iraqi refugee communities in Boston; Chicago; Dearborn, Mich.; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; and Los Angeles, among other locations. 

Since 2011, “What We Carried” has been exhibited in Boston; Seneca Falls, N.Y.; Berea, Ohio; Jacksonville, Fla.; Atlanta; Dearborn; Chicago; Skokie, Ill.; Kimballton, Iowa; Houston; and Portland, where Lommasson lives. To learn more about his work, visit lommassonpictures.com

“What We Carried” is a travelling exhibition of the Arab American National Museum and was funded in part by the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC), the Oregon Arts Commission, and the Arab American National Museum. 

Gallery hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 12 to 8 p.m. Closed Monday and July 4. Guided tours for school groups available by appointment Tuesday through Friday. 

Admission: $12 adults, $6 seniors, students, youth; free for children 5 and under and JANM members. Free admission for everyone every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. and all day every third Thursday. Group rates available. For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.

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Midwife describes working under ISIL, taking a dangerous stand for women

Um Qassem was working as a midwife in Al-Qaim City, in Iraq’s Anbar Province, when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh) swept into the country in mid-2014.Seemingly overnight, her life became a nightmare, she said – especially when the group tried to recruit her. 

“ISIL constantly threatened me, my husband, and my family, as well as other doctors and nurses. We were working under fear,” she described. “I was emotionally devastated, but I had to put on a brave face for my patients who were bringing in life in such a challenging environment.” 

Taking a dangerous stand 

The militants turned the maternity ward of Al-Qaim Hospital into an emergency room for its fighters. Maternal health personnel were relegated to a small room to perform deliveries. And women were suddenly charged for childbirth services, care that had previously been free. 

Women were expected to pay about $40 to give birth. “One woman walked in without money,” Um Qassem remembered. “She was in critical condition and needed to go into the delivery room immediately. The head midwife that ISIL had appointed refused to let her in, so I threatened to quit if we did not admit the woman.” 

It was a dangerous stand to take. “I knew that I was risking my life by such action, but the woman and her baby would have died if I had not spoken up,” she said. 

Hospital set ablaze 

The challenges did not end when ISIL left to Raqqa last October. The militants stole all the hospital’s equipment, and then set fire to the building. The damage was extensive. “I felt as if my world had just fallen apart. This hospital was my home. I had been working here for 15 years,” Um Qassem said. 

UNFPA has been supporting Al-Qaim hospital since early December 2017, helping to rehabilitate the operating theatres and delivery room. UNFPA also provided financial and logistical support to the hospital’s reproductive health team, and covered the cost of generators and waste management. 

Still, the delivery room needed equipment to become fully operational. UNFPA provided a well-equipped mobile delivery unit, able to manage uncomplicated deliveries as well as Cesarean sections. 

UNFPA also helped to establish a referral system to transfer more complicated cases to specialised care. With this support, childbirth services are once more free of charge. Today, Um Qassem’s greatest professional trials are those that normally come with the job: “The biggest challenge is to get these women through the delivery and promise them a beautiful, healthy baby,” she said. 

In the first quarter of this year, the UNFPA-supported medical team at Al Qaim Hospital assisted in 378 normal deliveries. UNFPA is also working with the Government to expand the availability of maternal health care, including through a countrywide midwifery training programme as well as pre-service training and in-service training for nurses. 

by Salwa Moussa

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#ArabAmerica: Iraqi refugee turns to tango

When Ahmed Abdulmajeed takes to the dance floor for a fundraiser at the Nouveau Antique Art Bar in Houston, the joyous music he will hear will be a far cry from the ominous sounds he experienced growing up in his native Iraq. 

“You’d hear a loud noise and you wonder is it a bomb?” said the 34-year-old Abdulmajeed. “Is it a bullet? You just get used to the noise, and I never thought twice about it.” While a chief resident in cardiology in Baghdad, Abdulmajeed started getting death threats. 

At one point he was almost kidnapped. Abdulmajeed has come a long way, from those days in a war-torn Iraq to being among a group of tango dancers hosting the fundraiser on Thursday benefiting the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees. The nonprofit offers services for refugee children in the U.S. 

For Abdulmajeed, the event is decidedly personal. For his family’s safety, he left Iraq and took refuge in Jordan in December 2010. There he worked part time as a doctor and also served as a hiking guide. One night he went to a salsa class on a dare from a friend. 

“She said to give it a try, if I didn’t like it, she’d buy me dinner, if I did like, I’d buy her dinner.” He looked up salsa dancing on YouTube and thought there’s no way he could move like that. Still, he agreed to go. 

After the class, Abdulmajeed told his friend he didn’t like it, got his free dinner, then signed up for lessons the next day. After living in Jordan for two years, he was accepted into the U.S. on a refugee resettlement visa. Tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees have resettled in the U.S. since 2006, with many in the Houston area. 

Tears welled up in his eyes as Abdulmajeed recalls getting off the plane in Chicago on June 20, 2012, his first stop on U.S. soil before settling in Detroit. “The border agent looked at me, looked at my paperwork, then back at me and said, ‘Welcome home son.’” It was at that moment he felt relief. 

“As a refugee, without even knowing it, you feel like you are always carrying your home on your back,” he said. “At that moment I realized what a weight I had been carrying.” Living in Michigan with family, Abdulmajeed started salsa dancing again, taking lessons at Argentine Tango Detroit in suburban Utica. 

“I became friends with the other dancers, and they asked me to stay for the tango lessons,” he said. He stayed, and he was hooked. “When you dance salsa, you’re always happy,” he said. “When you dance tango, you bring every emotion to the dance floor. There are wider emotions that you can express.” 

Abdulmajeed came to Houston in June 2014 after accepting a full-time position as an interpreter at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Two years later his love of dancing inspired him to start taking tango lessons. Although the challenge of the dance itself keeps him engaged, he says it’s also the community of dancers that keeps him coming back, even when he was just starting out. 

“You could sit at a table with 10 dancers, and five would be from other countries. I love the diversity.” It will be a big weekend for Abdulmajeed. Along with the dance, he will be graduating with a master’s degree in health administration from University of Houston Clear Lake. 

He plans to use the degree and his work as as an advocate and refugee to create healthcare-oriented initiatives to better serve immigrant populations. His parents, whom still live in Iraq, were planning on visiting him for his graduation but were denied their visas. 

By Elizabeth Conley

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War and peace: SOE agent remembered in Manchester

It was a pleasure to attend the unveiling of a plaque in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, Manchester, on Saturday 12th May, in honour of Madge Addy; a former nurse in the Spanish Civil War and World War Two agent for the Special Operations Executive. 

The mission of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) was sabotage and subversion behind enemy NAZI lines and upon the instruction of then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, SOE were ordered to ‘set Europe ablaze!’ 

SOE are known for the heroic role that women played during WW2, with agents including Noor Inayat Khan, who died in Dachau Concentration Camp and Odette Hallowes, who later testified against guards charged with war crimes at the Ravensbrück Trials. 

Other known names include Violette Szabo - whose legacy was cemented due to the smash hit film Carve Her Name with Pride - after being executed in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp and “the white mouse” Nancy Wake, who died in London in 2011. 

Madge Addy is the second known member of Special Operations Executive, to have lived in the Chorlton area of Manchester. A Mr. Patrick Fleury, who lived on Barlow Hall Road and died in the Wythenshawe Hospital in 2007, also served with SOE during World War Two. 

Among those who spoke at Saturday’s event, included Eddy Newman, the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Jeff Smith MP, Alison Bunn of the Royal British Legion and the International Brigade Memorial Trust, who organised the event. 

Hussein Al-alak is the editor of Iraq Solidarity News (Al-Thawra)

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They asked us not to forget them - Aid to the Church in Need on Iraq

This interview was conducted by Hussein Al-alak with Dr. Caroline Hull, the North West manager of Aid to the Church in Need UK. Having been to Iraq, Caroline speaks about the work of ACN, their efforts in Iraq and how the people of Iraq have asked "us not to forget them". 

What is your name and what role do you have in the charity Aid to the Church in Need? 

My name is Caroline Hull and I am the North West Manager for Aid to the Church in Need UK (ACN UK). With my colleague, Bridget Huddleston, I work to support ACN’s 30,000 existing benefactors in NW England and North Wales as well as to raise awareness about our work with new audiences in parishes, schools and the wider public. 

We run events, offer resources to parishes and schools and interact with interested individuals and groups through face-to-face meetings, correspondence and our social media platforms. This year Bridget and I are embarking on a special series of sponsored walks for Iraq’s Christians as they return to their homes on the Nineveh Plain. 

We are looking for sponsors, but also for individuals, parishes and schools to consider organising their own sponsored walks, runs and bike rides to help Christians in Iraq. (Details about how you can get involved appear at the end of this interview

Who are Aid to the Church in Need and what is their background? 

ACN is an international Catholic charity that works in over 140 countries around the world to support Christians suffering from poverty, extreme isolation or persecution. The charity was founded in 1947 and now has offices in 25 countries. 

Can you please tell us about the work that ACN does inside of Iraq? 

ACN has provided nearly 50% of all aid for the thousands of displaced Christians in Erbil. We work directly with the region’s Churches to supply funding for emergency relief aid (food parcels, fuel, accommodation and other necessities). 

We also support projects to help with medical needs as well as trauma and mental health counselling. ACN currently works extremely closely with the major Christian Churches in Iraq as they support those families who have returned to the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain. 

We are helping thousands of families to rebuild their homes, their churches and their lives in the places where their families have lived for generations. While most of our work is involved with Iraqi Christians, ACN’s partner Churches have also helped other religious minorities, including many Yazidi families, by providing emergency food and shelter to those unable to help themselves. 

How has ACN supported the victims of ISIS since 2014? 

ACN has supported displaced Christians with numerous emergency aid programmes providing necessities, building temporary housing, constructing, staffing and equipping schools and much more. 

Our benefactors here in the UK (and around the world) are very generous and have been deeply moved by the plight of Iraq’s Christians since 2014. In 2017 alone, ACN paid out over £3 million in emergency aid to the Middle East, with much of the total going towards our work with Iraqis and Syrians affected by extremist groups including ISIS. 

The clergy and religious sisters who have suffered greatly and worked so hard to help others are in need of support as well; ACN also provides stipends for Masses, grants to rebuild churches, presbyteries and parish halls, and various projects that make life a little easier for Iraq’s religious. 

With ISIS now defeated in Iraq, can you please tell us about ACN's role in the reconstruction of Iraq? 

Right now we find ourselves inside a small window of opportunity to support those Iraqi Christians who wish to return home. ACN—through the kindness of our benefactors—is making funds available through the local Churches so that they can rebuild their lives. 

Iraqi Christians—and other religious minorities—have received very little help from the world’s political leaders and their governments; ACN and a handful of other charities have largely borne the brunt of the financial burden. 

There are signs that the situation is improving and more donors are coming forward, but ACN remains committed to supporting Iraq’s Christian communities as they work toward a brighter future. 

ACN’s work in Iraq is not limited to the Kurdish region and the Nineveh Plain; our charity continues to fund a raft of projects to support the Church in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. We help with programmes for disabled and vulnerable people, schools, seminaries, building projects and transport for clergy and religious. 

How can people get involved with ACN to support your efforts in Iraq? 

There are lots of ways to get involved and to offer support for our work. People can contact one of our three offices in the UK, join our mailing or e-newsletter lists, read about our work and donate through our website www.acnuk.org

Another great way to support us in 2018, is by sponsoring the staff of ACN’s NW Office as we walk to the five NW Catholic cathedrals to raise awareness and funds for Christians in Iraq. We’ll walk from Lancaster Cathedral to Salford Cathedral in May; Salford to Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral in June; Liverpool to Wrexham Cathedral in July and Wrexham to Shrewsbury Cathedral in September.  

We are asking people to sponsor us for any amount they can afford—large or small!—through our Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/walks4iraq. We’ll be posting regular updates and photos as we progress through the NW, so people should keep checking in even after they’ve donated! 

If you are in the NW and you or a your parish or school would like to organise your own sponsored event for Iraqi Christians, please get in touch with ACN NW by e-mail nw.office@acnuk.org or by phone 01524 388739. We’d love to hear from you and we’ll even try and come along if we can! 

The most important thing we ask for is prayer. Any prayers offered will make all the difference to our brothers and sisters in Iraq. In fact, when I visited Iraq in 2016, prayers are what everyone I met requested. They asked us not to forget them. After being lucky enough to travel to Iraq with ACN, I know that I shall always keep Iraq’s Christians in my prayers. 

With all your work helping the people of Iraq, what future would you like to see for the Iraqi people? 

I simply want them to live peacefully and happily. I pray that they are able to return home and pick up the pieces of their disrupted lives, and that they can move towards a bright future for themselves and especially for their children. Christians have lived and worshipped in Iraq for nearly 2000 years; their faith is ancient and very strong. I pray that their churches and communities will thrive again well into the future.

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