07 August 2015, The Tablet

Jewish businessman spearheads rescue of Christians and Yazidis

A Canadian Jewish businessman has told The Tablet he has overseen the rescue of more than 120 Christian and Yazidi girls kidnapped by so-called Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq as Pope Francis condemned the "silence" of the international community in the face of ongoing persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.

Steve Maman, 42, an entrepreneur, founded the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI) after the jihadists overran the cities of Mosul and Sinjar a year ago, forcing more than 100,000 civilians, including virtually all the region’s Orthodox and Catholic population, to flee.

Francis in a letter to Iraqi refugees in Jordan issued on Thursday, a year after the jihadists' offensive, said: "Many times I have wanted to give voice to atrocious, inhuman and inexplicable persecution against people in many parts of the world - above all Christians - who are victims of fanaticism and intolerance. Often this persecution occurs where it can be seen and heard yet all are silent. These are the martyrs of today, people who are humiliated and suffer discrimination because of their fidelity to the Gospel."

In a matter last August, the jihadists took up to 7,000 Yazidi women and girls, some as young as 13, into slavery. An unknown number of Christian women and girls were also kidnapped. CYCI estimates that around 2,700 are still being held by IS.

Mr Maman, who cites as a personal hero Oskar Schindler, the German who saved as many as 1,200 Jews from the Nazi Holocaust, works closely with a team of negotiators based inside IS-held areas, who work to reunite the Yezidis with their families. “We liberate children from their captors through the use of on-the-ground brokers,” he said.

The charity receives money for rescue missions from Mr Maman’s mainly Jewish business associates, who, he said, have been “remarkably generous”. But the said his approaches to 60 church organisations in Canada, including parishes in Montreal and national bodies, have failed to attract support.

“This is a finite problem that can be solved with money,” said Mr Maman. “We need Christians to open up at the same rate as my Jewish friends have.”

CYCI collaborates with Anglican Canon Andrew White's Foundaition for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, which is providing shelter to hundreds of people who have fled IS.

Meanwhile in Australia, church leaders are exploring ways to help a Catholic university that is due to open for Christians and Yazidis from the Mosul region in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, was a guest at the twenty-fifth general assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities last month in Melbourne, where he sought assistance from delegates and the Australian Church.

He held talks with the president of the Australian bishops’ conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, and representatives of the Australian Catholic University (ACU), which hosted the assembly.

Archbishop Warda said establishing a university was “a way of fighting back against [IS] and saying we are not going to go away”. He thanked the Australian bishops for a A$500,000 (£240,000) donation last year and for sending a delegation of bishops to Erbil.

In a homily at the Assembly he said: “Our Catholic University of Erbil, planned to be opened in October, is a work of hope … It is our responsibility to help [our brothers and sisters] help themselves and to open the doors for a reliable future so they will be able to contribute to the well-being of the Iraqi nation.”

ACU's director of identity and mission, Fr Anthony Casamento, told The Tablet that his university was exploring the best ways to help. Options included including training non-academic staff; offering scholarships and internships; assisting with the library, accounts and marketing; and helping the university meet the demands of modern higher education institutions.

Above: The Canada-based charity CYCI issues Christian and Yazidi young women from their jihadist kidnappers, and keeps records of their ordeal to use against their abductors

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