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Eastern and Western Catholic Churches Helping Iraqi Refugees in Syria
By Amer Hedow :: Thursday, November 27, 2008 :: 47322 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.

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.