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Iraqi Christians Hope to Inspire Peace via Diplomacy and Dialogue
By Huda Metti :: Saturday, February 23, 2008 :: 30465 Views :: Government & Society, World News & Odds 'N' Ends, Chaldean Churches

Kirkuk, IRAQ - Chaldean Archbishop Sako has been elected interim chairman of the Iraqi Council of Christians.  A newly formed body that works to broker peace in Iraq and help communicate the importance of Christians in the Middle East.  The Archbishop explains that the goal is to create a single unit to engage with the authorities and Christians’ Muslim brothers, but not to be a political party.

The idea developed after a series of deadly coordinated attacks against Christian early this year across Iraq.  Iraqi Christians remain at risk and weakened by persecution and continual harassment.  Mass emigration and without proper political representation the indigenous people of Iraq are fast faltering.  Working at first at the local level the Christian Council is hoping to create a unified voice that will work to promote peace and solidarity among all Iraqis. 

For now their initiative is limited to Kirkuk and chaired for the time being by Chaldean archbishop, Mgr Louis Sako.  The Council will engage in dialogue local political authorities and promote peaceful co-existence with Christians’ and “Muslim brothers.”

Backed by Iraqi President Talabani, the Council will help bring together Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syro-Catholics and Armenian Orthodox and share a “common voice.”

The council will be composed of 30 members, clergy and laity, and meet once a month. “The Christian community welcomed the news about the Council’s creation,” he said. “I hope other cities follow Kirkuk’s example.”

According to Monsignor Sako, the lack of internal cohesion and shared views and goals are the Christian community’s greatest weakness.  “The main goal” in setting up the council “is to create a Christian common front,” he said. “If we have questions and problems we must be united to study them and propose solutions to the government.” But the newly-established council “is not a political party; it does not represent any side and has no intention of interfering with the work of parties.”

In Kirkuk, there are 12,000 Christians out of a population of about a million. In the last few years the city has taken in a lot of internally displaced people who fled the north from more dangerous areas like Baghdad and Mosul. 

The city has recently received the solidarity of Europe’s Christians. A 12-member delegation from Pax Christi France-Italy visited the archdiocese last Sunday.

Led by French bishop Mgr Marc Stenger, the delegation also visited Christian villages located in the Nineveh Plains and in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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.