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Eastern and Western Catholic Churches Helping Iraqi Refugees in Syria
By Amer Hedow :: Thursday, November 27, 2008 :: 55628 Views :: Government & Society, Chaldean Churches

Damascus, SYRIA - Sawsan Hussin was worried about her son, Mustafa. The 10-year-old had brought the horror of Iraq with him when the family fled to Syria.

He had nightmares and would cower at the slightest noise, his hands over his ears. Hussin knew he needed help, but as the refugee family's savings ran out, there was no money to pay for professional help.

Then a fellow refugee, a Christian friend who had been resettled in Canada, told Hussin by e-mail that she should take her son to see the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who run a variety of services for Iraqis in Syria. Hussin, a Muslim, did just that, and the sisters got the boy into therapy.

Hussin praises the work of a particular Good Shepherd nun, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of her work.

"She doesn't see us as Muslim or Christian, but just as people. She's the only one here who opened her heart to us. We left Iraq on a dark night, and she has made us feel welcome here in a strange land," Hussin said.

The Good Shepherd sisters provide Iraqi refugees with a variety of services, ranging from a telephone hotline to a shelter for women and families who are victims of abuse. They also provide skills training for young refugees.

"These families see no future through their sorrow and pain. What is needed is skills training and jobs for youth, to get them out of the house, to get them to begin to think about the future," said the Good Shepherd sister.

The flood of Iraqi refugees into Syria has produced big changes for the Church in the country. Caritas Syria, the local affiliate of the international umbrella group of Catholic aid agencies, has expanded its outreach. Today, it manages more than £2 million a year in projects targeting vulnerable Iraqi refugees, and it co-operates in ecumenical programs with the country's Orthodox community.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Absi of Damascus, a Melkite Catholic and president of Caritas Syria, said the Catholic bishops' conference decided not to officially register Caritas with the Syrian government, an unusual development in this strictly controlled nation. He said that decision has freed the Church from bureaucratic delays and allowed a more flexible and timely response to the changing needs of the refugee community.

"The Syrian government (officials) respect and trust the Church, so they are allowing us to work without challenging us. They know about our work, but they don't require us to register. The Church works with the poor and vulnerable, and the government is letting us do that with complete freedom," Bishop Absi said.

Sacred Heart Parish, MI USA

 

Sacred Heart Parish
310 W. Seven Mile. Rd.
Detroit, MI 48203
Tel: (313) 368-6214
Fax: (313) 891-0132

The parish was established by Rev. Jacob Yasso in 1973

Rev. Jacob Yasso

Rev. Jacob Yasso was born in the village of Telkaif, Iraq.  After completing high school he was recruited to Rome and Urbaniana University where he completed his Masters Degree in philosophy and Theology.  Fr. Yasso was ordained a priest in 1960 and served the Diocese of Mosul, where he worked in the public school system. Fr. Yasso was also asked by the Patriarch to teach at the Patriarchal Seminary in Baghdad, where he served as administrator, professor of philosophy and religious life, and rector of the minor seminary. 

In 1964, Fr. Yasso was appointed to the United States to serve the growing Chaldean community in Detroit.  There he served as the 4th Pastor of Mother of God Parish.  .  In 1972, the Patriarch charged Fr. Yasso with building a new parish for the Chaldeans in Detroit.  In taking great pains to care for the community Fr. Yasso accelerated the development of a new church and community center.  In 1975, Fr. Yasso completed the development of Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit and shortly thereafter he added the Chaldean Center of America in 1980, 

A few years later in 1982, Fr. Yasso was asked to assist the late Fr. Kattoula at St. Peter’s Church in San Diego, CA.  Before long, Fr. Yasso was once again recruited to Rome to study new Canon Law of the Church.  While in Rome Fr. Yasso completed his third Masters Degree in Church Law, making him the only Chaldean priest trained in Canon Law. 

In 1988, the Patriarch and Vatican authorities asked Fr. Yasso to travel to Canada and establish a parish and community center.  While there he served as a Tribunal Judge for the Archdiocese of Toronto.  Four years later Fr. Yasso returned to Sacred Heart church in Detroit to help care for the remaining Chaldean community residence in the Detroit area.  To this day, Fr. Yasso continues to serve as the parish pastor creating activities and advising the City of Detroit on community related matters. 

Fr. Yasso is a member of the International WYCLIF Bible translators, since 1975, and has completed the translation of the New Testament from Greek and Aramaic into Arabic and spoken Chaldean.   The publication of his scholarly work is set to be released soon.