Don’t forget Iraqi Christians, says priest

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By Rowena Orejana –
As he prepared to leave New Zealand, Chaldean Catholic parish priest Fr Fawzi Hanna has asked all Catholics to continue asking the New Zealand Government to grant special preference for Iraqi Christians seeking refuge here. After 13 years serving the Chaldean Catholic community in New Zealand, Fr Hanna left his parish for Canada with heavy heart.

“I’ll miss everything in New Zealand. I’ll miss the people. I’ll miss the weather. I’ll miss the Catholic Church here. I’ll miss the priests here in [Auckland] diocese. They are friends. They have supported me since I arrived here in 2003,” he said.

But he noted, “a priest can’t stay in one place forever because they are missionaries for change, you know”.

Fr Hanna hoped Immigration New Zealand will change its rules and grant Iraqi Christians a better chance to move here.

“Immigration New Zealand has special quotas for people in Afghanistan and Syria. Why can they not do that for Christian people in Iraq?” he said.

During his years as the parish priest of some 3500 Chaldean Catholics, Fr Hanna saw the establishment of St Addai Church in Papatoetoe as well as a centre that serves as the church hall and presbytery.

On the North Shore, the Chaldeans share St Thomas More Church in Glenfield with the Roman Catholics.

Chaldean Catholic communities are also growing in Hamilton and Wellington.

Fr Hanna also helped Fadi Boless, New Zealand’s first Chaldean seminarian, who spent a year at Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland in 2013 before continuing his studies overseas.

“I think that he will be good for the community because he grew up here. He will understand the young people who were born here who are Kiwis. Not like me because I grew up in Iraq,” Fr Hanna said.

If Mr Boless eventually becomes a priest, Fr Hanna said he (Mr Boless) will be an asset to the Church.

“He can read Aramaic and Arabic. Maybe he can do service for both the Chaldean and Roman Catholic rites,” Fr Hanna said. [After Fr Hanna left New Zealand, Mr Boless announced he was leaving the seminary for further discernment, but would continue the same study.]

He said one of the challenges he faced along with the parents of young Chaldeans is keeping their culture alive.

“Some [young people] are becoming very Kiwi, they do not like the Church. That’s the big problem,” he said.

“Some come to the Church, but they like to pray in English, because some of them, they do not understand or are not speaking in Arabic or Aramaic,” he said.

The Chaldean rite is usually celebrated in Aramaic, which is the language of Jesus, or in Arabic, explained Fr Hanna.

However, he accommodated the young people by celebrating the Mass in English on the first Sunday of the month.

Fr Hanna also established catechism classes for 75 children in south Auckland and for 45 children on the North Shore.

Reflecting on retaining young people, Fr Hanna observed: “Maybe we are a bit better . . . because the families, they come to church and they bring their children.”

Don’t forget Iraqi Christians, says priest