X

Browsing News Entries

Kidnapped by ISIS, priest in Iraq recounts story of facing fear with faith

Archbishop Mazen Mattuka with Father Pius Affas at the Monastery of St. Banham and Sarah in Iraq. / Source: Facebook page of the Monastery of St. Banham and Sarah

Mosul, Iraq, Apr 14, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The plight of Mosul’s Christian community has largely gone unnoticed for two decades. Since the city fell under the control of ISIS (also referred to as ISIL) in 2014, it has been a staging ground for bombings of churches. Armed groups have killed, blackmailed, and abducted numerous Christians there — both clergy and laypeople — since 2003.

Syriac Catholic priest Chorbishop Mazen Mattuka — along with Father Pius Affas (who at the time was pastor of Mar Thoma Syriac Catholic Church in Mosul and is now retired) — endured a nine-day abduction ordeal in 2007.

In Mattuka’s first press interview since being appointed superior of the historic Monastery of St. Banham and Sarah in Qaraqosh near Mosul in October 2023, he opened up to ACI Mena, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner, about his kidnapping. 

The kidnapping

“I had just been ordained a priest on Sept. 1, 2007, when I was assigned to serve at the Syriac Catholic Church of St. Thomas on the eastern coast of Mosul,” Mattuka recounted. “On the 40th day of my priesthood, Oct. 13, armed men ambushed Father Affas and me as we were leaving a condolence visit, heading to the Church of Our Lady of Fatima for me to celebrate my first Mass on her feast day.”

Describing the initial moments after his abduction as “a true testimony,” Mattuka explained, “every consecrated individual in Mosul knew at that time that they were subject to abduction and martyrdom. As a priest, I was persuaded that my fate would be similar to that of the two martyrs of Mosul — Father Raghid Kenni (2007) and Father Alexander (2006).”

“Our clothes and manner of responding during the interrogation revealed our identities to the abductors,” he continued. “We thanked God because all they wanted was a ransom; they didn’t plan to kill us. We were blindfolded in our makeshift prison.”

Mattuka said the first night was the most difficult. “I spent it in prayer and supplication: ‘Oh Lord, I am in deep sorrow because I did not have the opportunity to serve you for long. However, I am ready for martyrdom.’”

Prayer was the priests’ daily sustenance, Mattuka said. “We felt the Holy Spirit’s presence. We were at peace during our prayers. This gave me the wisdom to converse with our captors. The Holy Spirit guided my responses to convince them.”

He said the abductors were astonished to see him pray, bowing to the ground. He told them: “This is how Eastern Christians pray. Our Churches pioneered this posture of prayer that we’ve maintained for centuries.” He explained that “under the threat of death, the demand to renounce our faith never ceased. Our captors were surprised that we still rang the bells and celebrated Mass.”

After their release, Mattuka and Affas found no more sincere expression of joy and gratitude than ringing those same bells and celebrating Mass to give thanks. Masses of thanksgiving were held in many churches.

“We celebrated the holy Eucharist at the Church of St. Paul with Bishop Boulos Faraj Rahho, who later was martyred,” Mattuka said.

Mattuka said he felt pride in participating in World Youth Day with Pope Francis in Portugal last August, finally fulfilling his vow to thank Our Lady of Fatima, who watched over him after he was abducted on her feast. Many at her shrine had prayed for his safe return, as they told him, and their prayers were answered.

Remember your creator

Made a “Chorbishop” in December 2023 — a promotion given to a priest in Eastern Catholic Churches (though a lower rank than a bishop) — Mattuka spoke of his gratitude for serving in the church of his forefathers in Iraq. He said the words of believers never fail to warm his heart: “You seem more active and optimistic after the abduction. You give us hope by saying, ‘Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” 

During his captivity, Mattuka said he lost the only vestment he owned since ordination. Nevertheless, he found himself reborn. 

“God granted me a new life, allowing me to serve in his vineyard,” he said. “Therefore, I lived my priestly maxim to the fullest: ‘Fear not, for I am with you.’”

This story was first published by ACI Mena, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Ukraine military fears more losses at battlefields

Ukraine’s military chief warned that the battlefield situation in the industrial east has “significantly worsened in recent days,” amid concerns that warming weather allows Russian forces to launch a fresh push along several stretches of the more 1,000 km-long (620-mile) front line.

Read all

 

Pope pleads for military restraint in the Middle East

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The morning after Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel, Pope Francis pleaded with nations to avoid a further escalation of the violence.

"I make a heartfelt appeal for a halt to any action that might fuel a spiral of violence with the risk of dragging the Middle East into an even greater conflict," the pope said April 14 after reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Iran launched 330 exploding drones and missiles at Israeli military facilities late April 13 and early April 14. The vast majority of the weapons were intercepted.

Pope Francis told thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square, "I am following in prayer and with concern, also sorrow, the news that has come in the last few hours about the worsening of the situation in Israel because of the intervention by Iran."

People join Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square
As Pope Francis pleaded with nations to exercise restraint and avoid an escalation of violence in the Middle East after his recitation of the "Regina Coeli" prayer at the Vatican April 14, 2024, members of the Auxilium Cooperative, a social-service agency, hold up a sign that says, in Italian: "With Pope Francis for a Better World." (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

"No one should threaten the existence of others," the pope said. "Instead, all nations should take the side of peace, and help the Israelis and Palestinians to live in two states, side by side, in security."

Israelis and Palestinians have a "deep and legitimate desire" to live peacefully and independently, he said, "and it is their right! Two neighboring states."

Once again Pope Francis urged Israel and Hamas to stop the fighting in Gaza "and let the paths of negotiation be pursued with determination."

"Let that population, plunged into a humanitarian catastrophe, be helped; let the hostages kidnapped months ago be freed at once," he said, referring to the hundreds of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas in October.

"So much suffering," he said. "Let us pray for peace. No more war, no more attacks, no more violence! Yes to dialogue and yes to peace!"

Later in his remarks, addressing children and inviting them to participate in the first celebration of World Children's Day at the Vatican in May, Pope Francis said everyone needs young people's joy and their hopes "for a better world, a world at peace."

"Brothers and sisters, let's pray for the children who are suffering because of wars -- there are so many -- in Ukraine, in Palestine, in Israel, in other parts of the world, in Myanmar," he said. "Let's pray for them and for peace."

 

Calls for calm after Iran launches massive missile attack

The Israeli military says 99% of the drones and missile fired at it from Iran overnight were intercepted without hitting their target.

Read all

 

Over Taxation of Kenyans: A matter of concern, says the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) has expressed deep concern over the increasing burden of taxation on Kenyans. Addressing the media, just before the weekend, the Bishops who were meeting for the Plenary Assembly held at Roussel House, Karen Nairobi, raised the issue of taxation, among other pressing matters affecting the nation.

Read all

 

Pope calls for every effort for dialogue and peace in Mideast

At the conclusion of Sunday's Regina Coeli, Pope Francis makes a heartfelt appeal to halt the spiral of violence in the Middle East and for all nations to favour negotation and peace efforts, while assisting those suffering in Gaza.

Read all

 

Pope at Regina Coeli: How beautiful is it to share our faith

During his Sunday Regina Coeli this third Sunday of Easter, Pope Francis invites faithful to remember their personal encounters with the Lord and to consider how truly beautiful it is for us to share and transmit our faith.

Read all

 

Cardinal Tolentino de Mendonça: WYD are indispensable, even after 40 years

Forty years after the first worldwide gathering of young people in St. Peter's Square in 1984, a procession carrying the World Youth Day Cross recalls the many fruits of the initiative set in motion by Pope St. John Paul II.

Read all

 

Lord's Day Reflection: 'A Divine Encounter'

As the Church marks the Third Sunday of Easter, Jenny Kraska offers her thoughts on the day’s liturgical readings under the theme: "A Divine Encounter".

Read all

 

Vatican sends letter to French embassy over tribunal decision in nun’s dismissal case

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 13, 2024 / 14:41 pm (CNA).

The Holy See on Saturday confirmed that it had sent a diplomatic letter to the French embassy over a French court ruling involving a Canadian cardinal’s alleged wrongful dismissal of a nun.

A French court in Lorient, in Brittany, earlier this month had fined Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, along with several other parties, for the October 2020 wrongful dismissal of Sabine Baudin de la Valette, whose religious name was Mother Marie Ferréol.

Baudin de la Valette, 57, had reportedly lived in the French monastery since 1987 without any significant incidents, but in 2011 she denounced “serious abuses and facts” happening in the community. 

She was dismissed from the community after a visit from Ouellet. It was never made public what exactly the Vatican accused her of, though the former sister reportedly said the dismissal decree “accused her of having an evil spirit but gave no concrete reasons.”

On Saturday, meanwhile, Vatican News reported that Director of the Holy See Press Office Matteo Bruni confirmed to reporters the Vatican Secretariat of State’s transmission of a “Note Verbal,” or a diplomatic message, to the Embassy of France to the Holy See.

The letter addressed the “alleged decision of the Tribunal of Lorient in France in a civil dispute concerning the dismissal from a religious Institute of Ms. Sabine de la Valette (formerly Sister Marie Ferréol),” Bruni told reporters. 

“A potential ruling from the Lorient Tribunal,” Bruni told journalists, “could raise not only significant issues concerning immunity, but if it ruled on internal discipline and membership in a religious institute, it might have constituted a serious violation of the fundamental rights to religious freedom and freedom of association of Catholic faithful.”

Ouellet, who previously served as prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, “never received any summons from the Lorient Tribunal,” Bruni said. 

The Vatican learned of the tribunal’s decision “only from the press,” Bruni said on Saturday. 

The court also accused the religious community, among other things, of not correctly following the dismissal procedure. There was no prior warning and no reason for the dismissal from the community.

In addition, the court said, the community breached its duty of care when dismissing Baudin de la Valette, who was not offered any financial compensation that would have enabled her to “enjoy appropriate civil living conditions after 34 years of religious life and service to her community in the spirit of justice and charity as set out in canon law.”