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Local Chaldeans spearhead effort to help persecuted Iraqi Christians

ICC Note

“They [The Iraqi Christians] were persecuted and pushed out of their homes. There’s just a moral obligation for every Christian to help one another.”

By Joe Kohn

06/27/2008 Iraq ( Chances are, you’ve never had your church burned down by terrorists. You haven’t seen your pastor, or a family member, killed for being a Christian. You haven’t been forced under fear of death to leave your job, your home and everything familiar to seek protection for your family in a foreign country — where it’s illegal for you to be.

But if you’re a sponsor of the Chaldean Federation of America’s Adopt-a-Refugee-Family program, the chances are that you know someone in just such a situation, and you’re helping them to survive with the basic necessities of life. The program, run from Southfield , helps minorities — mostly Christians — who were forced out of their homes in Iraq by violence.

“We’re obligated to help,” says Zuher Qonja, a parishioner at St. Joseph Chaldean Parish in Shelby Township , who with his brother Jamal gives financial aid to three Iraqi refugee families. “They were persecuted and pushed out of their homes. There’s just a moral obligation for every Christian to help one another.”

The Adopt-a-Refugee-Family program helps Christian and other minority families who have fled Iraq during the war to seek safety in bordering Syria and Jordan .

‘They don’t deserve it’

In the parking lot behind the Chaldean Federation of America’s Southfield headquarters, Basil Bacall flips through a series of photographs. There’s a kitchen in what looks like a long-abandoned home — crumbling walls, broken tiles, a rundown stove and counter.

There’s a child sitting on the floor in a vacant room, looking up from a modest meal.

There’s an elderly couple sitting on a bed in another almost-empty room, a decaying window in the background.

The photos were from a trip Bacall had taken to Syria and Jordan to meet the refugees. Chairman of the Adopt-a-Refugee-Family program, Bacall had heard the horror stories of families in Iraq having to cross the borders en masse to seek safety in neighboring countries.

The violent and largely unforeseen aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, however, changed all that. Christians became the targets of violence and kidnappings. Church leaders were singled out.

“It clicked with me when I saw these people with my own eyes,” says Bacall. “We need to get the word out and get these people more help.” Having grown up in Iraq and living there until the age of 17, Bacall says he felt all the more blessed at the life he’d been able to build in the United States — he runs a successful development firm in Southfield . He wanted to know what he and others from the United States could do to help.

His answer? Not enough.

What they deserve, Bacall and others from the Chaldean Federation decided, is help. So they launched the Adopt-A-Refugee-Family Program in August 2007.

By the end of 2008, Bacall says, they hope to be helping 3,500 families with about $100 each per month.

Sense of responsibility

Unless the Iraqi refugees are wealthy, he explained, they stay in Jordan and Syria illegally. It’s illegal for them to hold jobs. Many, he say, become beggars.

In Syria , Fr. Burby says, the situation has gotten so bad that he’s even seen young ladies sell themselves in prostitution to support their families.

Fr. Burby says there are two ways in which the crisis of minority persecutions in Iraq needs to be addressed. The first is simply through Christianity.

“We cannot live our Christian faith if we have possibilities and we do nothing with them,” he said. “The good citizens in the richer countries need to reflect seriously and prayerfully and do something about it.”

The Chaldean community locally and worldwide have increasingly implored President George W. Bush to do more to protect Christians in Iraq . Many say the United States is responsible for the persecution because, before the U.S.-led invasion, Christians and Muslims were living in Iraq in peace.

“As Americans, we have a moral responsibility for these people,” said Bacall of the refugees. “We started the war.”

Help in the meantime

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