By Josh Tng
An Iraqi priest is preparing for his new appointment supporting immigrants and building a community in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
Father Sabah Kamora replaced Father Sarmed Biloues as pastor for Sts. Peter & Paul Chaldean Catholic Mission in January. Having served in Saskatoon for the past seven years as pastor of Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church, Father Kamora intends to expand the Chaldean congregation.
“I want to share this (Chaldean) community with the Church here in Vancouver,” Father Kamora said. “Many of our parishioners are immigrants, and there’s a long history with persecution in the Chaldean Church.
Born in Mosul, Iraq, Father Kamora studied in a Dominican monastery and was ordained a priest in 1997 in his hometown. “I worked in the Diocese of Mosul, and served in Iraq for four years.”
While serving in Mosul, militants attempted to kidnap him not once, but twice, in 2004 and 2005. “By the will of God, I escaped,” he smiled. “I was imprisoned two times, but by the will of God I was saved from their hands.
“First in 2004 in the city of Nineveh, they attacked my home with all different weapons for a period of five hours from 1 a.m. until five in the morning. My wife and my brother were with me in this terrible dark night.”
The militants attempted to blow up the house, but “we felt that the will of the Lord God had responded to the attack,” Father Kamora said. They did not succeed, and the attacks stopped. When he left the house to survey the scene, the surrounding grounds of the house were covered in the abandoned weapons of the terrorists.
“I went off to the church to thank God,” said Father Kamora, who celebrated his family’s safety with his congregation at Mass.
The second incident occurred in a Christian village named Tel Keppe close to Mosul. “In this event, the armed group stormed the house through the garden at eight in the night,” he recounted. Four masked gunmen charged in and restrained his wife and niece who were with him at the time.
“They attacked us with big knives in hand, and threatened (my wife and niece) with death if they screamed. Two of them blindfolded and tied my hands and took me to another room with their knives stuck to my throat.”
After three hours of gruelling torment and tension, the masked men stole valuables from the home and fled, leaving Father Kamora and his family frightened but alive. While the event was harder on them “because the gunmen stormed the house, the will of God protected us.”
He left Iraq and was appointed to serve the Chaldean Canadian community in Saskatoon in 2009, before being appointed to Vancouver last December.
The history of the Chaldean Church is tightly entwined with discrimination as an Eastern Syriac particular church. “There is a long history of martyrs and persecution for the Chaldean Church,” said Father Kamora. “With ISIS recently, many Christians had to evacuate from Mosul” where many Chaldeans lived.
“When they managed to push out ISIS, the Chaldean bishop wanted to visit the areas the militants captured,” he added. “ISIS destroyed it. They destroyed all the Christian areas 100 per cent. No churches, no housing, nothing was left.”
Because of the persecution Christians face, many become immigrants and refugees and attempt to flee to other countries. “They are coming here (to Canada) to establish something new, to make progress with their families and live in peace and to have their own church,” said Father Kamora. “They have lost everything in Iraq.”
Currently, the Chaldean community celebrates by renting space in St. Andrew Kim Church in Surrey. “Today, because of our growing community, we have almost 1,000 families (in Vancouver),” he said. “We need our own (permanent) church, especially in Surrey because of a majority of low-income families living in that area.”
“Our members of our church are newcomers and refugees,” said Samira Astifo, a member of the Vancouver Chaldean council. “It’s not easy living in the most expensive city, and they need all the help they can get,” she said. A permanent church has been “our dream for a very long time.”
Iraqi Christians are “the most persecuted in the world. We die for our faith. There’s no way (the refugees) could go back.”
Astifo is hopeful that with the help of the Archdiocese and Father Kamora, the Chaldean community will eventually have a permanent church for worship. “God is giving us this opportunity,” she said. Father Kamora “has a very strong will to help build a community and church here.”
Because the Chaldean congregation can only celebrate Mass at St. Andrew Kim on Sundays, Father Kamora has found ways to work around the situation. “When I first came here in December, we put about 35 chairs in my apartment and celebrated Mass.