Skip to comments.Iraqi refugees leave Lebanon hoping for better life in U.S.
Posted on 09/09/2008 1:57:04 PM PDT by NYer
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNS) -- Laith Kasshana left Baghdad, Iraq, early in 2007, when his 2-year-old daughter Media was an infant. In Baghdad, Kasshana's life was threatened and his brother was shot.
"I felt so afraid," he told Catholic News Service. "Even today, when I talk about Iraq, I feel full of anxiety."
But Kasshana, his wife and his two children -- 10-month-old Mathew was born in Lebanon -- left Sept. 7 for resettlement in San Diego.
"I just want to start from zero again so that I can give my children a better future," said 34-year-old Kasshana, a Chaldean Catholic.
"In the time of Saddam Hussein, we felt secure," he said. "People were afraid of Saddam, so there was respect for all religions. The slogan of Iraqi law then was 'religion is for God; the country is for everyone.'"
All through the family's troubles, Kasshana's 25-year-old wife, Ban, never lost faith that God would do something for her family.
"He is my only salvation," she said, "the only one I can depend on. God is my way out. He will light the way."
In Baghdad, Kasshana owned a store that sold cell phones and other electronics. In Lebanon, he most recently worked 14-hour days for a janitorial company, earning $380 a month -- a good salary, considering most refugees earn $200 a month, if they can find work. But Kasshana had to give up the job when he was assigned to a site far from his home. Without legal residency, he feared being put in jail if he was caught in transit.
When he gets to San Diego, he said, "I want to ... learn the language and to work. I'm willing to do any kind of job."
For a family of three, their Beirut apartment was spacious and structurally well-maintained compared to the living conditions of most other Iraqi refugees. Previously there were 11 family members -- eight of whom were adults -- crammed into the dwelling, but those families were resettled in the U.S.
A neighbor identified only as Thaker planned to move in to the apartment with his wife, newborn son and several extended family members.
Thaker and his brother, victims of religious persecution, fled Mosul, Iraq, in April. In Mosul they worked as cooks at a police academy in which recruits were trained by Americans. As Thaker and his brother were driving to work one day, assailants ordered them out of their car and beat them with rifles.
"They told us, 'You work for the Americans; you are like dogs. You are traitors,'" Thaker recounted.
As head cook for the police academy, Thaker was once awarded employee of the month and was nominated to become manager of the academy's 65 employees. He earned $50 a day for his job, which also included painting vehicles for the Americans. Now he earns $200 a month as a supermarket stocker, working 16 hours a day, six days a week.
Thaker's brother also worked as a cook for the academy and served as an interpreter for the Americans. After the brothers were threatened, they tried to go to work secretly, but they received a written threat, which Thaker has kept and has shown to the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon.
The attackers even knew that Thaker's brother had wanted to become a priest, although he had left the seminary years before to help provide for his siblings after their father's death.
"When they threatened us, the terrorists told him, 'You were studying to become a priest. If you ever go to church again, if you don't abandon your faith, we will kill you,'" Thaker said.
Thaker wears a wooden rosary around his neck; the image of the Divine Mercy is embellished on the face of his wristwatch.
"I want to live a stable life so I can give my son a future," he said.
Nadia Ghannem and her three children were to leave Lebanon for San Diego Sept. 10. Ghannem said she has mixed feelings about her future.
"I won't be very happy because my brother is in jail and my sister is still here," she told CNS.
The breakup of families is one of the drawbacks of refugee resettlement. Sometimes young adults get resettled alone and have to leave their parents and siblings. This is traumatic for Iraqis, in which the extended family is an important part of the culture, social workers say.
Ghannem's husband, Rabih, was shot in Mosul because he was active in his Chaldean parish. The couple and their three children fled to Lebanon last October, seeking safety and better medical treatment for Rabih. One month later he died.
Ghannem and her family live in a section of Beirut inhabited by about 2,000 Iraqi refugees -- mostly Christian. Slums and squalor best describe the conditions.
Mold, leftover from the damp winter, still clings to the ceilings of her apartment. A large cockroach scurries across the wall. Ghannem's 2-year-old niece amuses herself by unraveling a spool of thread, after playing with a doll, the only other visible toy. Ghannem shares the apartment with eight other family members, and sometimes an aunt stays with them.
Foam mattresses are spread across the one small bedroom that adjoins the living room. The bathroom is about 4 feet by 5 feet and has no sink, but an elevated faucet serves as a shower. There is no hot water.
Ammar Ghannem, 10, sits in front of the television, the mesmerizing box an ever-constant presence in refugee dwellings. When asked about his upcoming move to the U.S., Ammar replied, "I'm glad, because I can play on the computer there."
Ammar's 8-year-old sister, Myrna, said she wants to make new friends when she goes to the United States.
Although it is not widely known in our Western world, the Catholic Church is actually a communion of Churches. According to the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is understood to be "a corporate body of Churches," united with the Pope of Rome, who serves as the guardian of unity (LG, no. 23). At present there are 22 Churches that comprise the Catholic Church. The new Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, uses the phrase "autonomous ritual Churches" to describe these various Churches (canon 112). Each Church has its own hierarchy, spirituality, and theological perspective. Because of the particularities of history, there is only one Western Catholic Church, while there are 21 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Western Church, known officially as the Latin Church, is the largest of the Catholic Churches. It is immediately subject to the Roman Pontiff as Patriarch of the West. The Eastern Catholic Churches are each led by a Patriarch, Major Archbishop, or Metropolitan, who governs their Church together with a synod of bishops. Through the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Roman Pontiff works to assure the health and well-being of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
While this diversity within the one Catholic Church can appear confusing at first, it in no way compromises the Church's unity. In a certain sense, it is a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity. Just as God is three Persons, yet one God, so the Church is 22 Churches, yet one Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this nicely:
"From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God's gifts and the diversity of those who receive them... Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church's unity" (CCC no. 814).
Although there are 22 Churches, there are only eight "Rites" that are used among them. A Rite is a "liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony," (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 28). "Rite" best refers to the liturgical and disciplinary traditions used in celebrating the sacraments. Many Eastern Catholic Churches use the same Rite, although they are distinct autonomous Churches. For example, the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Melkite Catholic Church are distinct Churches with their own hierarchies. Yet they both use the Byzantine Rite.
To learn more about the "two lungs" of the Catholic Church, visit this link:
The Vatican II Council declared that "all should realize it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve, and foster the exceedingly rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern churches, in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition" (Unitatis Redintegrato, 15).
A Roman rite Catholic may attend any Eastern Catholic Liturgy and fulfill his or her obligations at any Eastern Catholic Parish. A Roman rite Catholic may join any Eastern Catholic Parish and receive any sacrament from an Eastern Catholic priest, since all belong to the Catholic Church as a whole. I am a Roman Catholic practicing my faith at a Maronite Catholic Church. Like the Chaldeans, the Maronites retain Aramaic for the Consecration. It is as close as one comes to being at the Last Supper.
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But why are they coming here!? Don’t they know that America is a racist sexist capitalist country and the worst place in the world to live becuase of BUSH?! Why don’t they go to China or north Korea? </sarc>
I met a young woman whose family is Chaldean on the Sunday before Labor Day. I couldn’t figure out what ethnicity she was before our friend in common told me she was Iraq. So I said, “So you’re Chaldean?” She asked me how I guessed that and I told her that I knew about the Eastern Rites. She has a really unique ethnic appearance, and this mother has it too
No, their country is the worst place in the world to live -- because of Bush.
I dont think NOW and the koskids will be very happy to know that Obama picked a guy that can fall into a trap on one of their biggest issues
In what way? We have blond haired, blue-eyed Lebanese parishioners. Many of the middle-eastern countries have been subjected to invasion over the centuries.
Here in Sterling Heights, Troy and Rochester, many Chaldeans have settled.
Wonderful people! They know how they were treated as Christians in the Middle East and are vocal about it.