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"Father Antoine Daniel was a man of great courage and endurance, whose gentle kindness was conspicuous among his great virtues. […] Verily, he burned with a zeal for God more intense than any flame that consumed his body." — Fr. Paul Ragueneau
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"Oh, what sighs I uttered, what tears I shed, to mingle with the waters of the torrent, while I chanted to Thee, O my God, the psalms of Holy Church in the Office of the Dead!"
— Isaac Jogues, upon finding Goupil's corpse (1642)
Christianity in the Middle East, Part 1
published 28 June 2010 by Corpus Christi Watershed

Marhaba, my wonderful blog readers!

In later blog posts I’ll be talking more in depth about the “big” project I’m working on in the Middle East, namely, the Massabki film. Today’s entry, however, continues a series of entries I’m doing about Christianity in the Middle East. It is a complex, rich and fascinating culture that bears spending a good amount of time on.

As we all know, post-war Iraq has been plagued with violence and instability. It’s one thing to read about it in the papers, however, and quite another to meet those who have experienced war firsthand.

During my week in Syria I visited the Chaldean Catholic Church in Damascus. The Chaldean Catholic rite is the main rite practiced by Iraqi Catholics. Since the recent Iraq war, Iraqis have been fleeing their country en masse. The first stop for many is neighboring Syria. The Chaldean Catholic Church is Damascus has had to deal with more people than it can handle. One local Maronite priest has been helping the Chaldean priest with masses because there are just too many people and too many masses for one priest to physically handle. Check out this clip I took at the Chaldean church in Damascus:

As you can see, it’s filled to capacity with a lot of overflow. But this is nowhere near the full amount of Chaldeans in Damascus. There is a huge refugee population.

Maybe an hour outside of Damascus, there is another church that the Chaldeans of that region are borrowing for masses. Every week the Chaldean priest takes a bus to say mass. I asked him if I could come along and he agreed.

Upon arriving, I had about an hour to kill. I wandered around the church and took a few pictures:

I began chatting with an Iraqi man. He said “where are you from?” Not sure if I should tell the truth, I said “I’m American.” He smiled and said “I worked for an American company in Iraq. One day I received a note that said ‘You have to leave. Now. You don’t have time to pack. Take your family and go. If you don’t you will die.’” He began to cry. He continued “I left behind everything. My job, home, all my possessions are gone. In Iraq I had a life. Here I have nothing. You know what they did? They kidnapped my son and I had to spend all of my money to get him back.” He composed himself, smiled and signaled for his son to come over. “Come meet this nice American man!” He told him. The boy looked like he was 13 years old. I shook his hand and said “nice to meet you.”

I was still slightly jetlagged from the trip from the U.S. so the encounter was all the more surreal. We truly have a lot to be thankful for. My next blog post will be more pleasant folks, I promise. Maybe I’ll tell a joke or two. For now, though, let’s be thankful for what we have and say a prayer for all refugees in the world.