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Chaldeans in Baghdad Celebrate The First Ever Public Christmas Event
By Neda Ayar :: Monday, December 22, 2008 :: 42816 Views :: Government & Society

Baghdad, IRAQ – “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” says Nadine Hemra, of Chicago Illinois. The light at the end of Iraq’s tunnel seems to be getting brighter.  Hemra is delighted at the news that the Iraqi death toll has dropped below pre-Saddam era, income for professionals has increased 400 times, utility services are becoming more reliable, and non-Muslim religious tolerance is growing. 

When challenged as to why her friends were unwilling to give Iraq a chance Hemra says, “My friends are weak and afraid of having to sacrifice for the good of others or the future.  The media has led them to believe there was no hope in Iraq.  I believe Iraq will rebuild itself into one of the strongest nations in the Middle East.  Then my friends will have to admit Bush did the right thing in liberating the country.  America lost many good people in the fight to be free from England.  Wouldn’t you say, as the benefactor of the revolution that the fight was worth it?”

It would have been unfathomable only a few months earlier.  However, this past Saturday floating in the sky above Baghdad glides along a huge multi-colored hot-air balloon bearing a large poster of Jesus Christ. Below it, an Iraqi flag.

Santa and his helpers stand under palm trees at Baghdad's first public Christmas festival.

CNN is in Iraq reporting on the first-ever public Christmas celebration in Baghdad, held Saturday and sponsored by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

The event takes place in a public park in eastern Baghdad.  The festive event included a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and tinsel; a red-costumed Santa Claus waving to the crowd, and an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders. 

In the center of the celebration is a large stage where children dressed in costumes representing Iraq's many ethnic and religious groups hold their hands and sing "We are building Iraq!"

Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf greets CNN reporters with a big smile. "All Iraqis are Christian today!" he says.

Khalaf says sectarian and ethnic violence killed thousands of Iraqis. "Now that we have crossed that hurdle and destroyed the incubators of terrorism," he says, "and the security situation is good, we have to go back and strengthen community ties."

Father Saad Sirop Hanna, a Chaldean Christian priest who was kidnapped by militants in 2006 and held for 28 days celebrates the event with friends, family, and neighbors. He knows firsthand how difficult the lot of Christians in Iraq is but, he tells CNN reporter, "We are just attesting that things are changing in Baghdad, slowly, but we hope that this change actually is real. We will wait for the future to tell us the truth about this."

Fr. Hanna just returned from Rome. "I came back to Iraq because I believe that we can live here," he says. "I have so many [Muslim] friends and we are so happy they started to think about things from another point of view and we want to help them."

The Christmas celebration has tables loaded with cookies and cakes. Families fill plates and chat in the warm winter sun. Santa balloons hang from trees. An artist uses oil paint to create a portrait of Jesus.

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.