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Baghdad Santa Returns to visit the kids in one Small Town in Iraq
By Guest Reporter :: Tuesday, December 25, 2007 :: 52689 Views :: Government & Society, World News & Odds 'N' Ends

Baghdad, IRAQ - Here's what Karrar Haider, a 10-year-old Shi'ite boy at a school in eastern Baghdad, told Santa he wants this year for the holidays:  "I have one wish to ask Santa Claus. Please bring peace to my country. Stop the bombs so I can play with my friends again."

Santa - who spends the rest of the year disguised as a 48-year-old Chaldean Christian monastery administrator named Jalal Hourmoz - said he was delighted to spread joy after two years when sectarian violence made a merry Christmas impossible.

"I stopped wearing the costume for two years. I was afraid of death. But this year it's a bit safer. So I'm back, to celebrate both Christmas and Eid," he said of the Christian and Muslim holidays that this year fall less than a week apart.

"I feel so happy to bring a smile to the faces of the children. They've suffered a lot and they deserve more than a guy wearing a Santa Claus costume with some simple gifts.

"I want to tell the world that Christians and Muslims in Iraq are brothers as we used to be before."

During the darkest days of Iraq's sectarian conflict, teaching respect for all faiths was a dangerous business. But at the al-Abtikar school in eastern Baghdad, it is a way of life.

The school is run by nuns from Iraq's small Chaldean Christian community, but most of its pupils are Muslims, a mixture of Shi'ites and Sunnis.

The nuns managed to keep the arrival of Santa Claus a secret from the 2,800 pupils until he showed up in his red suit and white shaggy beard, ringing a bell and passing out small toys.

Pupils ran outside, screaming with joy.

"We never differentiate between the students: Christians, Sunnis and Shi'ites are all equal. Our message is to offer education for all, with no exception," said Sister Ghufran Nayif, the school's principal.

To her, the coincidence that the Christian and Muslim holidays fall at the same time this year is a blessing.

"It's a sign from the holy God that we are all his creation, we should hold fast and nothing should divide us." she said.

"Children are living through daily suffering of violence, and we celebrate both happy occasions to draw a smile to their faces and tell them there is still hope in this life."

Or, as Rusul Mohammed, 14, a Muslim girl, explained the school's philosophy: "Today we are celebrating with our Christian brothers both Christmas and Muslim Eid.

"My wish is to live in peace all together," she 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.