Monday, April 12, 2021
St. Joseph News & Information
Latest News & Information

Current Articles | Archives | Search

Iraqi National Museum Reopens With Christian Art Hidden Away
By Neda Ayar :: Thursday, February 26, 2009 :: 87726 Views :: Sports, Art, and Entertainment, Community & Culture, Government & Society

Baghdad, IRAQ - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki attended the inaugural re-opening of Iraq’s National Museum.  “The opening is another sign of Iraq’s stabilization,” says Thair Yatooma, of the Iraqi Citizen Council of Art, an advisory group of the National Museum.  “The opening of the National Museum in Baghdad is a message from the government to foreign tourists: you are welcome." 

The Prime Minister cut the ribbon at the official reopening saying, "We have ended the black wind (of violence) and have started the reconstruction process." This morning, the first tourists entered the museum: for now, only guided tours for groups are allowed; it will take time to reopen the museum to private citizens.

However, some say the Museum must bring the Christian history of Iraq back into the light.  The National Museum had a long standing policy of prohibiting any display of Christian art to the general public.  The section dedicated to the Christian community could be visited only by foreign tourists; it was not accessible to Arab Iraqis. “The Christian presence is profound, deeply grounded, setting down roots over centuries; Saddam Hussein may have protected it, he always concealed it from the eyes of ordinary citizens" says Yatooma.

The museum, was sacked soon after the American invasion in March of 2003, and had remained closed since then.  The sacking of the National Museum perpetrated by vandals and art traffickers - before the indifferent eyes of the American army - was one of the signs of the failure of the U.S. post-invasion strategy. More than 15,000 works of art were destroyed or stolen by foreign collectors.

Efforts by the international community have permitted the recovery of about half of the materials, but UNESCO estimates say that about 7,000 objects are still missing, 50% of which have immense historical and artistic value.

"Art is a treasure for all of Iraq, which does not simply have oil underground. This should be encouraged, because it will be one of the main attractions for restoring the flow of tourists to the country,” added Yatooma.  He says that he visited the museum "before the fall of Saddam," and that it constitutes a "point of pride" for all Iraq, even if Christian history and tradition were "hidden" from the eyes of Arab citizens.

Yatooma talks about a "black hole" corresponding "to the period in which Christianity flourished," and expresses his hope that the new course of the National Museum "will take into consideration the presence and value of the Christian community, which played a leading role in the historical-cultural tradition of the country."

But the signs coming from the current parliament - still made up of imams and ayatollahs - do not bring hopes of "positive developments over the short term." "The most striking work," the Chaldean intellectual concludes, "are the winged bulls of the Assyrian period, dating back to around the first millennium B.C. They are huge and beautiful, a symbol of protection and defense against spies and the impure. They represent a national patrimony."

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.