martedì, settembre 11, 2012


Fr. Albert Hisham, new parish priest of a Chaldean church in Baghdad. A sign of hope.

By Baghdadhope*

Zafaraniya is one of the districts of Baghdad in the eastern part of the capital city of Iraq.
Like every other part of the city Zafaraniya was invested in the recent past by different waves of violence that put many of its inhabitants to flight. Among them many Christians. It is said that the Christian families living in Zafaraniya before 2003 were 700 and that now they are not more than 200.
If you consider an average of 5 persons per family (the normal average for Iraq) and you multiply this number for 500 the result is of about 2.500 Christians missing from the area.
Among them many run away to Kurdistan, the autonomous region in the North of Iraq where, if they all found a safer place to live in, many are still struggling for their daily bread due to the lack of jobs.
Another part of the Christians who left Zafaraniya went abroad. The luckiest, or those who left Iraq just before the war or soon after it, and had relatives abroad who could help them or money enough, are now living in Europe, America or Australia. A minority, in any case. The most part of them, instead, are still living in Jordan and Syria, the two countries that for years after the war opened their borders to Iraqis. 
What was left for the Christians of Zafaraniya in the past years of suffering? A life made of threats, violence, abductions, killings. How could they survive the horror and the fear of the future? Who or what helped them?
For many the only resource was the faith that found its external expression in the church where people could gather depending on the security situation and could talk freely  and dream for a while to be living a normal life.
For the Chaldean Catholic community of Zafaraniya the church was and is Mar Boulus, Saint Paul. The church was consecrated in 1994 by the former Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Mar Raphael Bidaweed, on January 13, the day in which the church celebrates the Saints Peter and Paul according to the Chaldean rite (the Chaldean church celebrates these two saints also on June 29 according to the Latin rite). In that day Fr. Francis Cher was nominated as parish priest of Saint Paul church and there he served his community until 2007 when he got retired and went back to his native village of Shaqlawa, in the north of Iraq.
As no priest had been officially nominated as the new parish priest the same Fr. Cher asked to Fr. Albert Hisham to be near to his community by celebrating the Holy Mass on every Saturday so to prevent the closing of the church.
For this reason Fr. Hisham, who was by then the vice parish priest of the church of Saint Joseph, began to serve Zafaraniya’s Chaldean community and did it until June 2009 when he was sent to Italy to complete his theological studies. To substitute him in Saint Paul church was called Fr. Louis Shabi who became the priest in charge of the church besides being the parish priest of the church of  Virgin Mary Queen of the Rosary in the centre of Baghdad.
In this way the church of Saint Paul was never closed or neglected despite the growing number of families who were leaving the area, but now it is at a new turning point.
After completing his studies in Italy on the last July Fr. Albert Hisham went back to Baghdad and since  September 7 he is the new parish priest of Saint Paul church in Zafaraniya. The celebration of his nomination held on last Friday was officiated by Bishop Jaques Isaac, Patriarchal Vicar of Baghdad, Rector of Babel College, the only Christian theological university in Iraq, and director of the Christian magazine Najim al Mashriq  (Eastern Star) and of the cultural magazine Ben Nahrein (Between the two rivers). Bishop Isaac was assisted by Fr. Louis Shabi and by the parish priest of Saint Joseph church, Fr. Saad Sirop.

Fr. Albert Hisham
was born in Baghdad on October 9, 1981. After the secondary school he entered the major Chaldean seminary and was consecrated as a priest on June 29, 2006 in Saint Joseph church where he served as vice parish priest from July 15 of that year to June 2009 when he left for Italy. In Rome he graduated in Social Communication by the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce discussing a tesis about how the massacre of the church of Our Lady of Salvation (October 31, 2010) was reported by the Arab and international press.
Fr. Hisham is the first Chaldean priest who got a specialization in Social Communication and he is a member of the board of the Chaldean Patriarchate magazine Najim al Mashriq.

Perhaps it will take a long time for Zafaraniya to become “normal” as it was in the past, perhaps many families will never go back to it. Surely the nomination of a new, and young, parish priest who will serve the church full time is a sign of hope and rebirth. This is what the Christian community of Iraq need and deserve.

Baghdadhope publishes the text of the speech given by Father Albert Hisham in the day of his nomination to parish priest of the Chaldean Church of Saint Paul, Zafaraniya, Baghdad.

Your Excellency Bishop Jacques Isaac

Brothers in the priesthood,  Father Louis Shabi and Father Saad Sirop
"If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8/31). I chose these words of St. Paul on the day of my ordination to the priesthood to be with me and support me in the path of my service, and I repeat them today because I feel more and more strongly the need to pass them on to everyone. Today, together with St. Paul, the patron saint of this parish, I begin a new phase of my service to Christ through my service to you, the members of this community. Like St. Paul who writes to the Corinthians: " For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake." (2 Cor 4/5), I pray and ask for your prayers to the Lord to help me in being your servant on behalf of Him and witness of  " work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” " (1 Thessalonians 1/3).

Dear brothers and sisters, on the day in which I receive my ministry as a pastor, I thank God first and foremost for His being always with us, His making me worthy to serve him and because it is only by His grace that I have the strength to carry on on my path. I thank His Excellency Bishop Jacques Isaac for his presence today, for the words he used to introduce me and for his willingness to support our parish. I extend a special thanks to Father Louis Shabi who served in this parish in the past three years with the goodness of his heart. Thanks to Father Saad for his presence and prayer. On behalf of the whole community of the parish I thank you and ask for your prayers for the Lord to show Himself in us.
Dear friends, I encourage you to continue to live your faith and give testimony of it  in your life. The faith you lived and live in spite of the difficulties giving a sign of your hope and of your love for Christ. I promise to work with you and, doing our best, to achieve our goal and reach our destination: Christ. I finish citing St. Paul’s encouragement: "Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy that has been used, we do not lose heart" (2 Cor 4/1). God bless you all.

Father Albert Hisham Zarazeer
Parish priest of the church  of St. Paul

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