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Lebanese Parish Reaches Out to Christian Iraqi Refugees for Christmas

Christian Iraqis and Lebanese volunteers dance after the 11 December lunch organized for Iraqi refugees at the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection in Rabieh, east of Beirut. Parishioners tried to make Iraqis feel welcome with a Christmas party. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy) 

16 Dec 2014 – By Doreen Abi Raad

RABIEH, Lebanon (CNS) — The sadness behind their polite smiles was evident when they arrived on two buses for a Mass and luncheon in their honor.

As an expression of solidarity and to share the hope of Christmas, the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection in Rabieh, an affluent suburb north of Beirut, hosted the group of Christian Iraqi refugees.

Some of the refugees had arrived in Lebanon only days or weeks before, their hopes for a safe future overshadowed by memories of their expulsion from their homes in Mosul and the areas of the Nineveh Plain last summer, when Islamic State militants seized the areas and ordered minorities to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or face death.

The priests and volunteers of the parish, who together had planned every detail of the gathering for the Iraqi Christian refugees as well as other events during Advent, eagerly welcomed their guests.

“You have suffered so much,” Father Elie Sfeir, pastor of the church, said in his homily, “but do not be afraid, because Jesus is here for you.”

“No one can take your soul and no can take your land, your inheritance, in heaven,” he assured them.

After the Our Father, the priest invited the Iraqi guests to recite the prayer together in their Chaldean language.

During the prayers of the faithful, Father Sfeir concluded: “Through these times of hatred and persecution, we ask you, Lord, to have mercy on all the people who were forced to leave their homeland, leaving behind them a country where they had grown, and their homes and belongings. Please, Lord, give them strength and courage to face hatred with love, betrayal with forgiveness and evil with goodness.”

Downstairs at the banquet after Mass, the volunteers and priests lavished hospitality upon their guests, serving them with smiles and engaging them in conversation.

Father Sfeir noted that the hearts of his parishioners were moved with generosity when a collection for the outreach was announced.

In a festive finale after desert, with Arabic popular tunes cranked up on the stereo speakers, volunteers roused their guests for a traditional line dance. Hands joined for the step-and-stomp movements. The group snaked its way down from the stage where people had dined, amid ululating, cheers and a cascade of rose petals plucked from the souvenir flower arrangements of the Mass.

Upon leaving, each guest received a queen-sized fleece blanket and a huge sack, a care package filled with basic food staples. The next day, volunteers accompanied a nun from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd to visit an additional 30 Iraqi Christian refugee families in their dwellings in Beirut to deliver more care packages.

The Cathedral of the Resurrection will also host a Mass and Christmas party on 21 December for more than 100 Iraqi Christian children refugees. Specially chosen gifts will be distributed, based on the child’s age and gender.

Many of the refugees also welcomed the opportunity to share with Catholic News Service how they were forced into exile. Their lingering fear of Daesh — an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group — still apparent, they asked that CNS not publish their real names because they still have relatives in Iraq.

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Tags: Lebanon Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Christian Unity