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Baghdad Santa Returns to visit the kids in one Small Town in Iraq
By Guest Reporter :: Tuesday, December 25, 2007 :: 65397 Views :: Article Rating :: 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.

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St. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  


Rev. Frank Kalabat
 

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.

 

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
 
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.