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Chaldean Christmas Party for Refugees Offers Hope and Peace
By Sam Yousif :: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 :: 52709 Views :: Community & Culture, Chaldean Churches

Michigan, USA - The Chaldean Catholic Diocese of the United States of America held a Christmas party for Chaldeans in Michigan.  For many, this was their first Christmas celebration in safety since the war began. 

More than 1,200 guests gathered in the prestigious Bella Hall on Sunday.  All hoping to bring peace to so many who still worry about their loved ones caught in the turmoil and persecution of Iraqi Christians.  Others silently cried as they reflected on the situations of their loved ones trapped in foreign countries as refugees. 

One refugee family who arrived to America was Bushra Alawerdi, her husband and four children.  Alawerdi  tells reporters that in her area in Baghdad, they invaded homes, threatened their lives, and stole property.   "We had no choice but to leave. And, no, I would not like to return,” she says.  Bravely Alawerdi shares through an interpreter, “The language is tough for us here. We are still looking for jobs. The money is short. But, for sure, I am more happy, this year, than last year."

Chaldeans frustrated with western countries who have turned a blind eye to the onslaught and persecution the people faced since the war.  Ignoring their plight, the Christians became targets by fanatical Muslims to raise money for terrorist acts.   Nearly a million fled the country creating a human crisis in countries like Syria and Jordon.  Long delays in processing the refugee status of the Chaldeans worsened their plight, as they languished, waiting to join family and relatives scattered throughout the world.

The frustration is also expressed by political leaders in America who continue to push the Bush Administration to act.  Rep. Frank Wolf, Republican from Virginia said Tuesday at an event sponsored by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that the Bush administration has “turned a blind eye” to the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq,.
 
Wolf blamed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and even Christian churches in the United States for not coming to the aid of people in Iraq who are fleeing the country by the thousands to avoid torture and even death because of their allegiance to non-Muslim faiths.
 
“We are spending billions of dollars and have shed the blood of some of this country’s finest, and the U.S. government has not done a darn thing to protect the freedom and safety – forget freedom – the safety of Christians in Iraq,” Wolf said. “Secretary Rice has failed when it comes to this point.

Republicans in both the House and Senate have continually attacked Bush for his mishandling of the war and his cabinet’s lack of protection for minorities in Iraq.   “The lack of effective government action to protect these communities from abuses has established Iraq among the most dangerous places on earth for religious minorities,” said Felice D. Gaer, chairwoman of the commission.
 
Aside from a panel of seven of the nine commissioners, several other lawmakers weighed in on the commission’s report and recommendations at the press conference.
 
“In the last three months alone it is estimated that about half of the 20,000 Christians in the largely Kurdish city of Mosul have fled that city,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in a prepared statement. “Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, over one-third of the Christian population of Iraq, a community of some 800,000, have left the country.”
 
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, co-chairmen of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the lawmakers said, “The Iraqi government has a moral obligation to protect the rights of all minority communities by implementing concrete solutions to ensure their safety.”

Cardin and other lawmakers added, “The United States must take the lead and provide a ‘humanitarian surge’ in responding to this crisis.”

However, the rhetoric has done little to help the struggling Chaldean families orphaned in the desert. 

Little is being done to help minorities in Iraq and barriers from the Iraqi government keep religious groups for helping refugees. 

With very limited resources and little if any political clout, Chaldean groups have been active in helping Iraqi miniorities.  Groups have formed to help adopt refugee families left in the desert and the Chaldean church in America continues to pound the drums and rally their parishioners to help.

Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim, leader of the Chaldean Catholic diocese decided to organize the large Christmas Party.  "The decision to make a Christmas dinner for the refugees and the new arrivals in the United States is to show them that there are brothers and sisters who love them here, and they will try to make them happy in every way that is possible," he says.  "We want them to feel that they are not abandoned by others," Ibrahim added. "We want them to feel that there are people behind them who are thinking of them, and who love them."

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.