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Syriac bishop for Canada says he will prioritize refugees, vocations

25 Jan 2016 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — The newly ordained bishop for the Syriac Catholic Church in Canada pledged to make his first priority the suffering and spiritual needs of beleaguered Syriacs seeking refuge in Canada.

Bishop Antoine Nassif was ordained 23 January by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan at Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral in Beirut. He will lead the first apostolic exarchate for Syriac Catholics living in Canada, with the jurisdiction based in Montreal and Laval, Quebec.

The Canadian exarchate, similar to a diocese, covers territory there that was once part of the Newark, New Jersey-based Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance, established in 1995.

After his ordination, Bishop Nassif noted the new exarchate was erected in the year of mercy and at a time when God “is offering so much” to the Syriac church, most notably the beatification in August of Syriac Catholic Bishop Flavien Michel Melki, a century after he was beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam.

The new bishop added that the blood of the martyrs “didn’t quench the thirst of their persecutors,” alluding to the persecution facing Christians in Syria and Iraq as a result of Syria’s civil war and the uprooting of Christians by the Islamic State group.

Days before his ordination, Bishop Nassif, who was born in Biakout, Lebanon, told Catholic News Service that he never imagined becoming bishop or going to Canada as shepherd to Syriac Catholics there.

“But I’m obeying. I’m ready to be where God sends me. This is the real call, to understand and to feel that in every step I can see God’s hand guiding me,” he said.

“With what is happening in our Middle East, and most importantly with the refugees — Syrian, Iraqi and others — I will put their suffering on the top of my priorities, especially their spiritual needs,” he pledged.

With the establishment of the exarchy, more Syriac Catholic families from Syria and Iraq will be encouraged to migrate, he told CNS. Bishop Nassif said he met many Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Lebanon ahead of his ordination and added: “They live in very difficult situations.”

The bishop said he plans to work closely with the Canadian government, particularly with Eva Nassif, a member of the Canadian Parliament, who is a native of Lebanon and a distant relative he has never met, to facilitate the settling of refugees.

“I have no doubt that all members of parliament, and the Canadian government itself, consider this issue among their priorities,” he told CNS. “It is a purely humanitarian issue and deserves the participation and support of everyone.”

He said his inspiration to become a priest was influenced by his maternal uncle, 85-year-old Bishop Antoine Beylouni, now retired, who concelebrated the ordination liturgy with the patriarch and Bishop Barnaba Yousif Habash of Our Lady of Deliverance in Newark.

Bishop Nassif told CNS that it was not his uncle’s stature as bishop that inspired him, but his commitment to parish service and his closeness to parishioners.

“Maybe I inherited his love for the Syriac liturgy,” he added.

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