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Australia Denies Visas to Iraqi Chaldean WYD Pilgrims
By Rita Abro :: Monday, July 14, 2008 :: 83665 Views :: Religion & Spirituality, Community & Culture, Government & Society, Chaldean Churches

The Catholic News Agency reports that the Australian government has denied visas to dozens of Chaldean World Youth Day pilgrims from Iraq.  Australian officials say they are concerned that participants will not return home and instead will seek asylum in Australia. One Chaldean Catholic priest called the decision “a slap at young people who wanted to go to witness to the faith and the joy of the church’s living in Iraq despite sufferings.”

Initially the Australian government denied visas for nearly 170 pilgrims, allowing only ten visas to aspiring World Youth Day participants, the SIR News Agency says. According to the website Baghdadhope, there are now only about 30 total visas available that will be granted “in extremis.”

Father Rayan P. Atto, parish priest of Mar Qardagh Church in Erbil, told SIR News Agency that the concerns about asylum seekers were unfounded, arguing that, “for young Christian Iraqis, taking part in the WYD in Sydney was not a way to leave their country.”

“Most of the group members come from northern Iraq, a quiet area,” he continued. “They have no reason to escape and they would certainly not do it on an occasion related to faith.”

Before it was reported that 30 visas would be available for pilgrims, Father Atto said the Australian Embassy in Amman, Jordan had approved only ten visas. “How can one reduce a group of almost 170 people down to just ten?” he asked.

The news of the 30 total visas did not satisfy Bishop Philip Najim, Chaldean Procurator to the Holy See.

“This is a real scandal, a slap at young people who wanted to go to witness to the faith and the joy of the church’s living in Iraq despite sufferings,” Bishop Najim said, speaking to MISNA news agency. “The dream of young Iraqis to participate in World Youth Day in Sydney shatters against the wall of mistrust and of bureaucracy, after the Australian embassy in Amman completely denied the visas in the beginning and then, today, granted 30 entry visas to the country… just 30, of which 12 are for religious and only 18 for young boys and girls, on a list of 170 people delivered since last year."

"What makes the refusal bitter is their inference that young people could take advantage of this opportunity to remain as applicants for asylum. According to them there would be no sufficient guarantees that they will return home,” the monsignor continued.

“The refusal of the entry visas to the young Iraqis who wished to attend the World Youth Day makes us very sad,” said Chaldean Bishop Jibrail Kassab of the Eparchy of Oceania and New Zealand.

“It would have been a great opportunity for sharing faith,” the bishop told SIR, “which would have been beneficial to so many young people, and not only Iraqis. Unfortunately, presumably political reasons prevented this.”

The Australian Embassy said that political, not economic reasons motivated their decision. The embassy said that in most cases the documents concerning the employment and financial situation of the pilgrims are missing.

However, the embassy had reportedly been informed that the Church would guarantee the visa applicants’ expenses.

According to Baghdadhope, the Iraqi World Youth Day delegation of 30 will include ten priests. The Most Rev. Mikha P. Maqdassi, the Chaldean Bishop of Al Qosh, will also be part of the delegation along with a nun, ten young people active in parish youth groups, and eight people designated to carry the cross in Sydney.

About 700 Iraqi emigrants living in Australia, the United States, and Europe will reportedly attend World Youth Day in Sydney next week.

St. Joseph, MI USA

St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church
2442 E. Big Beaver Rd.
Troy, MI 48083
Tel: (248) 528-3676
Fax: (248) 524-1957

Congregation Organizer:
Rev. Michael J. Bazzi

Church Constructing Pastor:
Rev. Sarhad Y. Jammo

Current Pastor:
Msgr. Zouhair Toma

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Ayad Hanna

 Current Pastor: Msgr. Zouhair Toma

Msgr. Zouhair Toma (Kejbou) was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1947.  He was ordained a priest in Baghdad, Iraq in 1968, and accepted his first assignment to serve the community of Baquba.  The Monsignor’s leadership skills and organizational talents along with his mastery of theology were immediately evident.  He later assisted Sts. Peter and Paul in Al-Salehia, and St. George in New Baghdad.

In August, 1978 Monsignor Toma was called to serve the growing community of persecuted Chaldeans finding refuge in Australia.   Being the fist Chaldean priest to arrive in Australia he quickly established a parish for the Chaldeans in Sydney to serve their social and spiritual needs.  The parish was named after St. Thomas the Apostle and built a rectory. 

In 1989, for his incredible work he was granted the title of Monsignor, Chaldean Patriarchal Vicar for Australia and New Zealand.  Continuing his passionate work to serve the Chaldean community the Monsignor moved the Parish Center to a more accessible location and built a large church campus featuring a modern community center, residence quarters, and administrative offices in 1995. 

In 2003, Monsignor Toma added a magnificent church to replace the previous one in order to serve the fast growing community and also opened two other centers.  The first was Our Lady Guardian of Plants in Melbourne, and the second was Mar Addai the Apostle in Auckland, New Zealand.  Mar Addai in New Zealand included two very large churches along with rectories and community centers.  Overseeing the Patriarchal Vicariate for 28 years, he managed to inspire six more priests to help minister to the fast growing Chaldean community. 

In August 2006, Monsignor chose to assist the St. Thomas the Apostle Diocese in the U.S. as more Catholic churches were being built in America and address the growing need.  On October 2006, Monsignor was incardinated and appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Troy.