Patriarch of Syriac Catholic Church Prepares For Historic First Ever Trip to Australia

Pope Benedict XVI with Patriarch of Syriac Catholics
Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
Mor Ignatius Youssif III Youman, Patriarch of the 500-year-old Syriac Catholic Church will arrive in Sydney on 31 January for an historic two week first visit to Australia.

“This is the first time a Patriarch of our Church has visited Australia and we are all very much looking forward to his visit,” says Father Rahal Dergham, the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Migrant Priest to the city’s 1200-strong Syrian and Iraqi Catholic communities.

The Syriac Catholic Church extends its roots back to the origins of Christianity. Known as the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians, Mor Youssif III Youman presides over the Patriarchy of Beirut and from there spiritually leads members of Syriac Catholic communities around the world.

The Syriac Catholic Patriarchy includes four archdioceses in Syria, two archdioceses in Iraq, one in Egypt and Sudan, a Patriarchal Vicariate in the Holy Land, a Patriarchal Vicariate in Turkey and Dioceses in the US and Canada as well as Australia.

Mor Ignatius Youssif III Youman, Syrian Patriarch of Antioch

“Members of the Syriac Catholic Church include many from Sydney’s Lebanese and Iraqi communities and all are delighted at the visit by our Patriarch especially at this time when Christians in Syria and Iraq are facing increased danger and persecution by Islamic fundamentalists,” says Fr Rahal.

The Patriarch will spend his first week in Sydney as a guest of the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell. Then on 7 February he will head to Melbourne where he will visit Victoria’s 1000-plus members of the Syriac Catholic Church.

His visit will end on 14 February when he will return to the Middle East and his home in Lebanon.

The Patriarch will be accompanied on his historic visit to Australia by Patriarchal Vicar General, Bishop Mor Basilius Jirjees Casmoussa; Patriarchal Secretary Father Ephreme Semaan and Father Pius Affas, a priest from the Syrian Catholic Church in Iraq.

His visit to Australia comes at a time when Christians and members of the Syrian Catholic Church in particular are facing increasing danger and persecution by Islamic extremists in Syria and in Iraq.

Christians comprise 10% of the Syrian population but as rebel armies of foreign-funded Islamic extremists join Syria’s brutal civil war, they have become targets. Their churches have been burned or destroyed. Others have been murdered or shot with hundreds of thousands from Christian communities in Aleppo, Damascus and Hims forced to flee.

Horror aftermath after 58 killed during Mass in 2010 at Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad

In Iraq the persecution of Syriac Catholics by Muslim fundamentalists and Al Qaeda extremists continues.

On 31 October 2010, 58 Syriac Catholics were killed by Islamist extremists after 100 of those attending Sunday evening Mass at Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church were taken hostage. Three priests were among those shot with a further 78 men women and children injured.

Despite worldwide outrage at the attack, attacks on Christians in Iraq show no signs of abating with Al Qaeda and Muslim extremists who wish to see Iraq transformed into an Islamic State under Sharia Law vowing to “wipe out” all Christians.

In Syria, Christians including Iraqi Syriac Catholics who had sought shelter from persecution in the neighbouring nation, face similar risks to their lives, their families and their livelihoods.

“The uprising in Syria may have begun as a fight for democracy, but Fr Rahal says this has now changed.

“What we are now seeing is a religious war. Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim extremist militias are also determined to see Syria as a Muslim state under Sharia Law. They want Christians and all other religions removed from Syria and Syriac Catholics are among their main targets,” he says.