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Chaldeans in Baghdad Celebrate The First Ever Public Christmas Event
By Neda Ayar :: Monday, December 22, 2008 :: 11935 Views :: Government & Society

Baghdad, IRAQ – “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” says Nadine Hemra, of Chicago Illinois. The light at the end of Iraq’s tunnel seems to be getting brighter.  Hemra is delighted at the news that the Iraqi death toll has dropped below pre-Saddam era, income for professionals has increased 400 times, utility services are becoming more reliable, and non-Muslim religious tolerance is growing. 

When challenged as to why her friends were unwilling to give Iraq a chance Hemra says, “My friends are weak and afraid of having to sacrifice for the good of others or the future.  The media has led them to believe there was no hope in Iraq.  I believe Iraq will rebuild itself into one of the strongest nations in the Middle East.  Then my friends will have to admit Bush did the right thing in liberating the country.  America lost many good people in the fight to be free from England.  Wouldn’t you say, as the benefactor of the revolution that the fight was worth it?”

It would have been unfathomable only a few months earlier.  However, this past Saturday floating in the sky above Baghdad glides along a huge multi-colored hot-air balloon bearing a large poster of Jesus Christ. Below it, an Iraqi flag.

Santa and his helpers stand under palm trees at Baghdad's first public Christmas festival.

CNN is in Iraq reporting on the first-ever public Christmas celebration in Baghdad, held Saturday and sponsored by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

The event takes place in a public park in eastern Baghdad.  The festive event included a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and tinsel; a red-costumed Santa Claus waving to the crowd, and an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders. 

In the center of the celebration is a large stage where children dressed in costumes representing Iraq's many ethnic and religious groups hold their hands and sing "We are building Iraq!"

Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf greets CNN reporters with a big smile. "All Iraqis are Christian today!" he says.

Khalaf says sectarian and ethnic violence killed thousands of Iraqis. "Now that we have crossed that hurdle and destroyed the incubators of terrorism," he says, "and the security situation is good, we have to go back and strengthen community ties."

Father Saad Sirop Hanna, a Chaldean Christian priest who was kidnapped by militants in 2006 and held for 28 days celebrates the event with friends, family, and neighbors. He knows firsthand how difficult the lot of Christians in Iraq is but, he tells CNN reporter, "We are just attesting that things are changing in Baghdad, slowly, but we hope that this change actually is real. We will wait for the future to tell us the truth about this."

Fr. Hanna just returned from Rome. "I came back to Iraq because I believe that we can live here," he says. "I have so many [Muslim] friends and we are so happy they started to think about things from another point of view and we want to help them."

The Christmas celebration has tables loaded with cookies and cakes. Families fill plates and chat in the warm winter sun. Santa balloons hang from trees. An artist uses oil paint to create a portrait of Jesus.

Mar Addai Church, MI USA

Mar Addai Chaldean Catholic Church
24010 Coolidge Hwy.
Oak Park, MI 48237
Tel: (248) 547-4648
Fax: (248) 399-9089

Congregation Organizer:
Rev. Michael J. Bazzi

Church Founding Pastor:
Rev. Stephen Kallabat

Current Pastor:
Rev. Stephan Kallabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Fadi Habib Khalaf

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Sulemina Denha
 


 

Rev. Stephen Kallabat


Fr. Stephan Kallabat was born in Telkaif, Iraq.  After completing seven years of scholarly work for the priesthood in Mosul, Iraq Fr. Kallabat was accepted at the prestigious university in Rome.  There he spent six additional years of scholarly work in the areas of philosophy and theology and an additional four years in scriptural studies. 

Ordained a priest in 1966 by Pope Paul VI he returned to Iraq to serve the Holy Family parish until his departure to Michigan, U.S. in 1979 to serve the growing population of Chaldeans.  Fr. Kallabat was appointed assistant pastor, then pastor of Mar Addai Parish in Oak Park, Michigan. 

Hitting the ground running, Fr. Kallabat is credited with raising the necessary funds to provide Chaldeans in the local area a church and community center of their own.  Fr. Kallabat continues to serve the parish and Chaldean community as their pastor.   

Rev. Fadi Habib Khalaf

Fr. Fadi Habib Khalaf was born in Baghdad May 10, 1974.  Fr. Khalaf graduated from Baghdad University in 1997 and soon after joined the Chaldean seminary in Baghdad.  While there Fr. Khalaf earned a scholarship to attend the Urbanian Pontifical University in Rome.  There he earned another bachelor’s degree in theology and was ordained deacon in Rome on May 8, 2004. 

Fr. Khalaf then returned to Baghdad where he was officially ordained as a priest.  Afterward Fr. Khalaf returned to Rome to further his studies.  In 2006 Fr. Khalaf was appointed to serve Chaldeans in the United States.  

In the summer of 2006 he arrived to the Chaldean diocese of St. Thomas the Apostle and was cardinated into the Diocese and elected to serve at Mar Addai parish on March 15, 2007 as the Parochial Vicar.

Rev. Suleiman Denha

Rev. Suleiman Denha was born in Telkaif, Iraq.  He began his priestly studies in 1951 in Mosul, Iraq and was ordained in 1959.  Fr. Denha taught in Telkaif until 1961, when he was appointed pastor in Basra, Iraq in 1966. 

After immigrating to the Unite States in 1979, he was appointed to serve the Chaldean community in Virginia.  A year later, Fr. Denha was recruited to assist the much larger population of Chaldeans in Detroit. 

Upon his arrival Fr. Denha assisted Fr. Yasso at Sacred Heart Church.  In 1982 he was asked to temporally assist St. Joseph Church in Troy, returning a year later Sacred Heart. 

In 1991, he was appointed to Mar Addai Church in Oak Park, Michigan as the Parochial Vicar, where he still serves the community today.