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Australia Denies Visas to Iraqi Chaldean WYD Pilgrims
By Rita Abro :: Monday, July 14, 2008 :: 158392 Views :: Article Rating :: Religion & Spirituality, Community & Culture, Government & Society, Chaldean Churches

The Catholic News Agency reports that the Australian government has denied visas to dozens of Chaldean World Youth Day pilgrims from Iraq.  Australian officials say they are concerned that participants will not return home and instead will seek asylum in Australia. One Chaldean Catholic priest called the decision “a slap at young people who wanted to go to witness to the faith and the joy of the church’s living in Iraq despite sufferings.”

Initially the Australian government denied visas for nearly 170 pilgrims, allowing only ten visas to aspiring World Youth Day participants, the SIR News Agency says. According to the website Baghdadhope, there are now only about 30 total visas available that will be granted “in extremis.”

Father Rayan P. Atto, parish priest of Mar Qardagh Church in Erbil, told SIR News Agency that the concerns about asylum seekers were unfounded, arguing that, “for young Christian Iraqis, taking part in the WYD in Sydney was not a way to leave their country.”

“Most of the group members come from northern Iraq, a quiet area,” he continued. “They have no reason to escape and they would certainly not do it on an occasion related to faith.”

Before it was reported that 30 visas would be available for pilgrims, Father Atto said the Australian Embassy in Amman, Jordan had approved only ten visas. “How can one reduce a group of almost 170 people down to just ten?” he asked.

The news of the 30 total visas did not satisfy Bishop Philip Najim, Chaldean Procurator to the Holy See.

“This is a real scandal, a slap at young people who wanted to go to witness to the faith and the joy of the church’s living in Iraq despite sufferings,” Bishop Najim said, speaking to MISNA news agency. “The dream of young Iraqis to participate in World Youth Day in Sydney shatters against the wall of mistrust and of bureaucracy, after the Australian embassy in Amman completely denied the visas in the beginning and then, today, granted 30 entry visas to the country… just 30, of which 12 are for religious and only 18 for young boys and girls, on a list of 170 people delivered since last year."

"What makes the refusal bitter is their inference that young people could take advantage of this opportunity to remain as applicants for asylum. According to them there would be no sufficient guarantees that they will return home,” the monsignor continued.

“The refusal of the entry visas to the young Iraqis who wished to attend the World Youth Day makes us very sad,” said Chaldean Bishop Jibrail Kassab of the Eparchy of Oceania and New Zealand.

“It would have been a great opportunity for sharing faith,” the bishop told SIR, “which would have been beneficial to so many young people, and not only Iraqis. Unfortunately, presumably political reasons prevented this.”

The Australian Embassy said that political, not economic reasons motivated their decision. The embassy said that in most cases the documents concerning the employment and financial situation of the pilgrims are missing.

However, the embassy had reportedly been informed that the Church would guarantee the visa applicants’ expenses.

According to Baghdadhope, the Iraqi World Youth Day delegation of 30 will include ten priests. The Most Rev. Mikha P. Maqdassi, the Chaldean Bishop of Al Qosh, will also be part of the delegation along with a nun, ten young people active in parish youth groups, and eight people designated to carry the cross in Sydney.

About 700 Iraqi emigrants living in Australia, the United States, and Europe will reportedly attend World Youth Day in Sydney next week.

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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.