B-REDEMPTORISTS' MISSION BAGHDAD - Redemptorists' Fathers in Baghdad

Redemptorists' Fathers in Baghdad
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Our situation around 2015-2016.

The Redemptorists in Iraq became few. The superiors refused to connect us with other provinces, while the St. Clemens province doesn’t want us to accept candidates. Every year during my vacation I see the provincial who remains reluctant to accept again Fr. Manhel although it could easily arrange. They don’t seem interested in the mission; they don’t help financially or spiritually. Sometimes we have candidates but don’t know what to do with them. Actually we work close together with bishop Bashar Warda in Ainkawa who experienced some difficulties with the new Chaldean patriarch. In Baghdad Fr. Meyasser was responsible for the parish of Sacred Heart and now Mar Giwargis. He does a splendid work and preached retreats and gives lectures about biblical topics. Like Fr. Vincent (Mansour) he also gives lessons in the Babel college in Ainkawa. Fr. Manhel is now priest of the Melkites and celebrates for them on Sundays.

Our center for Eastern studies continues, although the number of students became few. One of them, Dahlia Azeez was sent to Leuven for two years and obtained a master degree, and after one year teaching at our institute she makes her last doctorate year in Rome (PIO).
In June 2016 the students, with Fr. Mansour, made a study trip to the monasteries of Wadi Natroun and esp. to Deir St. Catherina in Jebel Sinai. The climb the mount Mousa and encountered the oldest icon of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
CCCB 2015-2016
In 2016 the Chaldean patriarch honored Fr. Vincent and Fr. Luc Cop with a special cross in respect for their work in Iraq for the Christians.  Since the time of president Saddam the official recognized Christian communities (14) had to sit together and belonged to the ministry of endowments. At least twice a year we gathered and discussed the common problems, but in June 2016 the Chaldeans withdraw. For the fifth time they try to update their mass formulary.
CCCB 2017
2017: Most important events for the Redemptorist’ Mission:

Since two years, Fr.Meyasser is parish priest of Mar Giwargis Church in Baghdad, by order of His Beatitude the Patriarch Louis Sako.  
He is very successful with the people and organizes meetings with the youngsters…
On several occasions he organized meetings, in which also Muslims leaders participated. “Encounter around the Word” The Last one being about the role of women in the actual society of Iraq. It lasted for three days with participation of Muslims and government representatives. There was an exposition about women in paintings and carvings. June 20
In May 4-10 Fr. Mansour assisted in the palace of UNESCO in Beyrouth at the presentation of his book: “Dieu du Silence”. He visited the Indian confreres in Beyrouth, some days before the celebration of Fr. Timon de Cock’s 64 year of presence in Lebanon.
In Baghdad in the month July 24, the graduation day of the Center for Eastern Studies took place in the presence of the Apostolic Nuntio, Mgr. Basilius Yelda the assistant of the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, and Mgr. Martin Awgin responsible for the Assyrian church. In fact among the students who accomplished their four years where three Assyrians.  Sitt Dahlia also was present, she just arrived from Rome. The students presented songs and paintings.
Some weeks later the summer courses took place with a good number of youngsters interested in hairdressing, music, CP programs and reparation.  
During the year Fr. Meyasser and Fr. Mansour went to Erbil for courses in the college for philosophy and theology. He delivered a talk during the celebration of the College Jubilee.  
One day Fr. Mansour visited the Assyrian new Patriarch Mgr. Giwargis Saliba in his residence, where he keeps a copy of the famous Sin Yan Fou stele, commemorating the coming of the Assyrian mission in Peking in 635.
They are always welcomed by the bishop of Erbil their confrere Mgr. Bashar Warda. He renewed his churches and build two new ones. He also opened last year a Catholic university.  
For the Greek Church in Baghdad a new generator was obtained and installed on the same day.
Farewell to Fr. Lucien Cop Redemptorist

Fr. Lucien Cop was born in Beveren Sept. 22, 1929, he entered the Redemptorist congregation with his vows on Sept. 15, 1951, St. Truiden, and was ordained priest on Sept. 15, 1956, Leuven, and arrived in Baghdad in 1960, He was appointed teacher in Biblical exegesis in the Chaldean seminary and later in the Babel College for Philosophy and Theology. For 50 years he introduced the students to read the Bible and understand its meaning. He was also engaged in pastoral work in some churches, gave spiritual guidance to sisters and seminarians. For two years he was novice master and during the war emigrated to Qaraqosh village with the novices. Because of health problems he had to leave the mission in 2013 and shared the life of the Redemptorist community in Groot Begijnhof (Gent), and his last year in Heist-op-den-Berg.

An “in memoriam” service was held in Baghdad on Jan. 1, 2019 in the Chaldean St. Joseph cathedral, headed by His Beatitude The Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Babel for the Chaldeans, and two other Chaldean bishops, and the representing of the Assyrian Church. In his homily the Patriarch honored the unselfish engagement of the Redemptorist Fathers at the service of the Chaldean Church. After the Mass a condolence sitting took place in the neighboring church hall.

On Tuesday Jan. 8, 2019 the burial service took place in Belgium, in the church of Our Lady in Sint Amandsberg. Fr. Ives Demey was the president and was assisted by several priests who had come from Iraq and Germany and Sweden. The homily was delivered by Mgr. Bashar Warda, Redemptorist and Archbishop of Erbil in Iraq. He admired Fr. L. Cop for his readiness to accept whatsoever was asked him to do, always ready to listen to the needs of others and showing the them God’s mercy. He invited them to continue the work of creation, and to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He thanked God for Fr. Cop’s life amidst the Chaldean people.

Afterwards the remains were taken to the graveyard in Mariakerke, where the coffin was put into a common grave for Redemptorist Fathers from the region of Gent. From there those who were present drove to Lochristi were bread and coffee waited for the participants. Fr. L. Cop’s brother and sister were present and grateful for the beautiful service. They all felt together around the memory of this great man, so dear to all of them. There was also a representing of the provincial of the |Clemens Province and a German confrere who did not realize that he had been the cause of our disappearance. Here follow some texts and pictures of that occasion.

(Here followes the text of Father Mansour’s allocution at the occasion in Dutch)
Welkom aan allen die hier bijeen gekomen zijt, Beveren en Baghdad bijeen rond deze grote mens, om hem een laatste maal te groeten. Hij is ereburger van Beveren, en kent er alle straten en alle graven op het kerkhof. Georges en de Betsi, de Norma en Meentje en hun families.
Gij hebt hem allemaal gekend als een buitengewoon vriendelijke, maar ook enthousiaste mens die u geinspireerd heeft om met meer moed het leven aan te gaan.   We komen hier om te danken, dat de Heer ons deze mens gegeven heeft, dat we hem mochten kennen en apprecieren, als een van zijn buitengewone genades.
Gewoonlijk beginnen we de latijnse liturgie met een korte schuldbelijdenis. Wat mij betreft is dat hier ook op zijn plaats, want dikwijls was ik niet op zijn niveau. Mocht de Heer ons genadig zijn.
Ik heb het geluk gehad met deze man 50 jaar samen te leven. Een fijngevoelig mens met veel respect voor de kleine dingen van het dagelijks leven, en toch steeds gedreven door de Geest. Zeer verschillend in aanpak en inzicht, hebben we toch getracht een huis te bouwen. De jaren dat hij novicenmeester was hebben onvergetelijke indruk nagelaten. Later heeft hij dat uitgewerkt als geestelijke leider in het Chaldeeuws seminarie.
We hebben samen harde dagen en nachten doorgemaakt. Oorlogen en bombardementen. Een van de moeilijkste was die van het afscheid van zijn grote vriend Pater Frans Van Stappen in 1991. Nadien is het nooit meer hetzelfde geweest, het was een te groot verlies.
Tussen al de grote en kleine herinneringen,, sta me toe om even naar voor te brengen wat me het meest en diepst getroffen heeft.  Hij was een "god-zoeker". Heel zijn wezen was daarvan doordrongen. Hij hield niet van bijbelse theologie of zo, maar hij was behebt met het woord, de tekst zelf. Met zijn wijsvinger op het woord van de bijbel, in het hebreeuws, het grieks of het syrisch. Maar in het woord, daar is God te vinden. Daar spreekt hij, en daar is zijn epiphanie en Geest te vinden. Hij kon hevig doen als hij het trachtte over te brengen. Met zijn twee handen, en u aankijkend om nooit meer te vergeten: hier is de ontmoetingsplaats. Deze godstegen-woordigheid bezielde hem en straalde van hem uit. Hij was als het brandend braambos, vol van de God van de Bijbel. Iets van Gods aanschijn lichtte op in zijn gelaat. Een gelaat vol tederheid, een gewonde mens zoekend naar een ander gelaat. Nu dat hij ziet, van gelaat tot gelaat, mocht er iets van zijn onverzettelijk zoeken in ons blijven hangen.
"Alziende God, uw ogen zijn niet hard, uw woorden niet als vuur, dat gretig in het wrakhout bijt, Want wie gebroken is van hart, vermoeid en onvolkomen. Halsreikend naar vrede voor het eigen hart, en toekomst voor de hele wereld, omarmt Gij teder als geen een. Vader van oneindige barmhartigheid wees ons genadig, nu en altijd" MW.

2018: most important events in the Redemptorist’ Mission in Iraq:

Since three years, Fr.Meyasser is parish priest of Mar Giwargis Church in Baghdad, by order of His Beatitude the Patriarch Louis Sako, without asking anything from the CssR. It is one of the biggest parishes in Baghdad and Fr. Meyasser’s work is appreciated by the Chaldean Patriarch. Esp. Because he has created aforum where Moslims and Christians meet to discuss their common problems and prospects: “Encounter around the Word”.  He cares for the church and knows to attract people and to interest the youngsters. When he asked the Patriarch permission to go to Lebanon to study exegesis, the Patriarch refused, because in his eyes Fr. Meyasser is one of his best and precious priests.

In April 2018, Fr. Mansour (Vincent van Vossel) participated in a colloquium about “Teaching theology in the Arabic world”. This was held in Kaslik, Lebanon under the protection of “Missio” (H. Sueermann). During that occasion, FR. Mansour visited the CssR house in Beyrouth, but the two Indian confreres were absent and the only resident was an oecrain nun (Sister Alfonsa) who was guarding the house and the dog. He saw the small library of Fr. Timon De Cock, but did not touch it. He also visited a new monastic order of hermits and the tomb of Charbel Maklouf. Fr. Maroun Attallah asked him to write a book about the spirituality of the Eastern Church.
In Baghdad, since Easter, at the end of every month a meeting is hold about spirituality. All Christians are invited. The first session was about the book of Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out. Sometimes the Chaldean Patriarch assists. Other subjects were: the spirituality of the Liturgy. Tradition and Modernity. The identity of the Christian in St. Paul …
In May one of the professors of the PIO institute of Rome, came to Baghdad to the Center for Eastern Studies (CES) to deliver some courses about Christian archeology (Fr. V. Ruggieri, SJ), and plenty students and interested people assisted, esp. in the end when a trip to Kokhe was organized. (See the film and PowerPoint about the successful journey).
This year in July, the graduation day of the Center for Eastern Studies took place but in very low profile, because there were no students in the last year.
Some weeks later the summer courses took place with a good number of youngsters interested in music, CP programs, languages and first medical help.
As usual, during the year Fr. Meyasser and Fr. Mansour went to Erbil for courses in the college for philosophy and theology. Fr. Mansour published a book about the Eastern Anaphorae, which influenced the Chaldean bishops in their decisions.
Our confrere Mgr. Bashar Warda. Archbishop of Erbil, always encourages us in our necessities.

Problems & difficulties:
1) The financiering of the mission. The Redemptorists are responsible for the Greek Catholic church in Baghdad. The Greek community is very poor, and the Patriarch never paid his priests and their work. Every week there is a food distribution in the church for the needy (about 60 food packets). The sacristan and the priest and the workmen in the garden and other places must be paid. The maintenance of the church building, the choir and servants, the cooling systems in the summer, and the warming installations in the winter also ask a lot of money.
The Center for Eastern Studies, with the teachers and servants, maintenance and the transport of the students, the books and study material, it all costs very much.
Up till now, all these expences depend on personal resources. But at this moment the number of benefactors becomes problematic. The CP has never paid for the mission.
2) The question of the reacceptance of Fr.Manhal into the CssR congregation.
3) Actually the Redemptorists will sell the house in Daura, which belonged to the family of Fr. Bashar. In order to buy another house in a more secure place in Baghdad.

During a visit to the new Rev. Fr. Provincial, Jan Hafmans, on 07\09\2018 in Wittem, these problems are mentioned:
The need for a new confrere in Baghdad in order that the “mission” can continue. He says: YOU write directly to the provincials (Poland,Oecraine) to present your needs and demand. If they react I will support you. My response: I might present this idea to Fr. General when I see him in Rome.
About Fr. Manhal: I just told him to check the documents about him, and correct the passive attitude of the previous provincial.

The CP do not want to help in the financial situation.
If something unexpected would happen the mission and the CES will be handed over to Bishop Bashar and he will inherit its belongings.

A week later on a visit to Fr. Lucien Cop, a painting made by one of his students from Baghdad, was presented and he looked gradefully with such staring eyes, never to forget. He lives now in the convent of Heist op den Berg and tied up in his weel chair. This free man who always had the last word and liked to walk and visit his people …. Since he left Baghdad in 2014 he lived for some years with Bennie, Petit-Jean, Timon De Cock,  in Begijnhof, St. Amandsberg, but since last year he has been transferred to Heist-op-den-Berg, because he walked too far and once was about to be killed by a train.

On Sept. 22 a memorial mass was celebrated for Fr. Marcel Weemaes. We used to visit him every year. His inspiring songs and poems should be kept alive.
In july 2018 Fr. Vincent was invited by “Missio” for a talk about “Teaching Theology in the Near East” presented in Kaslik University (Lebanon). Also present was Dr. Murry Van Den Berg. At this occasion he visited the cell of Saint Sharbel Maqlouf.
Information about the Cultural Center for Eastern Studies in Baghdad, Iraq.

Purpose: Next to material aid for the development of the needy, the Center intends to help the remaining and harassed Christians to rediscover their own precious traditions and to make them more conscientious of their own identity. The final purpose of this project being: to convince them of their importance in the Iraqi society in order that they remain settled in that country where their ancestors lived for centuries, since the beginning of the Christian area.

Our Center has known a long preparation: it started in 1989 with courses on the Eastern Church Fathers (Center for Patristic and Liturgy) and was situated in the compound of the Greek Melkite church in Baghdad. But when in 2007, the Babel College for Philosophy and Theology was transferred from Baghdad to Erbil, the Center for Eastern Studies was erected to fill up the empty place and to specialize in Eastern Cultures and Theologies. Since that date, and during those dangerous years, the Center for Eastern Studies continued. Many students received their spiritual formation there. It is patronized by the Greek Melkite Patriarch and also by the Chaldean Patriarch, His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael Sako. The program of the Center has been recognized by the Institute for Eastern Christianity of the Erasmus University in Nijmegen, and by the faculty of theology in the Catholic university of Leuven. We hope that also the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome might recognize our Center.

Rector: Mgr. Bashar Warda, CssR (Lic.Ethics, Leuven, Chaldean)
Vice-Rector: Fr. Meyasser Bahnam (Bac.Urbanianum, Syrian Cath.)
Study prefect: Fr. Vincent van Vossel, CssR (Eastern theology PIO).
Secretary: Fr. Manhal Kamal (parish priest of the Greek Cath.).
Dr. Mgr. Jacques Isaac: Eastern liturgy (Chaldean).
Fr. Meyasser Bahnam: Exegesis OT&NT (Syr.Cath.).
Fr. Thair Esheykh: Canon Law (Chaldean).
Fr. Ephrem Awdisho: Canon law (Assyrian).
Dr. Vincent van Vossel: Spirituality & Liturgy (Melkite).
Dr. Mgr. Yousif Thoma OP: Ecclesiology (Chaldean).
Fr. Manhal Kamal: Islamology (Melkite)
Fr. Amir Jawhar: De Deo uno et trino (Chaldean).
Fr. Rami OP.: Eucumenical & local Concils – Monasticism (Assyrian).
Fr. Fareed OP. Iconography (Syr. Cath.).
Drs Dahlia Azeez: History of the Church of the East and Syriac Renaissance (Assyrian).
Fr. Martin Awgin: Liturgy (Assyrian).
Dr. Feysal: Philosophy (Muslim).
Dr. Wasan Houseyn: Religions (Muslim).
Mr. Ghassan: Patristic and Syrian Church History (Chaldean).
Mr. Fawwaz: General Church history & Christology (Chaldean).
Miss Shawgheek: Armenian Church history (Armen Orth.)
Dr. Vincenzo Ruggieri SJ: Archaeology (Italian).

Center for Eastern Studies\ Baghdad
4 year program
Year I
Year II
Year III
Year IV
1)Eastern theology: Aphrahat - Ephrem (Comm.Genesis)
Theol. of Salvation
Syriac Renaissance
Hist. of Syriac Exegesis
Syriac Christology
Narsai & Babai
School of Nisibis
Church hist. 1 mill. Synhados
Church hist. 2 mill. Hist. Armenian Church Hist. Syrian Church
History of Chaldean Church &
Church of the East
Persian Martyrs
Hist. of  Byzantine Church
3)Fathers & Spirituality
Monastic movement
Alexandrian & Cappadocian Frs.
Henri Nouwen.
Antiochian & Western Frs.
Syriac mystics &
Byzantine Spiritualty
4)Liturgy: Penance in Ch. of E
Baptism (general)
Eastern Anaphora
Marriage in Ch. of E. Gabriel Qatraya
Liturgical Prayer Baptism in
Eastern rites
5)H. Script. : OT 1
H. Script. : OT 2
H. Script. : NT 1
H. Script. : NT 2
6)Canon & Ethics: 10 Commands
Virtues & Ethicon Islam studies
slam & Secularism
Modern Ethics
7)Modern theology:
H.Trinity - Sacram.in genere
Modern Theol. : God & Islam
Modern Theol. : Christ & Islam
The Church & Religions
8)Religions: Islamology
The Sumerians
The Assyrians
Counsels &
The Babylonians
Heretics &
The Persians
Old Greek
Middle Ages
Modern Age
Present time
God Secularism
Man Psychology
World Ecology
Next to this more scientific program the Center offers also for the youngsters courses about:

Languages: English, French, Italian, Syriac.
Music: General introductions & instruments.
Hair dressing for beginners and more advanced.
CP: programs and mechanism...

Painting & iconography.
Medicine: first help and delivery problems.

Every year the Center publishes several books about theology, spirituality, liturgy and prayers, next to introductions to the Bible, and more general cultural topics.
From time to time the Center organizes a symposium about Syriac spirituality,
And archeological excursions.

The Center is connected with the Greek St. Jorjis church in Karada, Baghdad. This church was completely destroyed by a bomb-explosion in 2004. Fr. V.v.Vossel also is responsible for its expenses: weekly food-distribution for the poor and refugees (2000 $ a month) and for the persons who serve the church, the generators ... (2500 $ a month).
The expenses of the Center for Eastern Studies amount at least to 5000 $ a month.
For all these expenses we depend on gifts from some Flemish benefactors, without relying on any other development projects or official sources or church-leaders.
Any donation would be more than welcome.
Some reflections about my visit to Rome on Oct. 9-13, 2017

On the meeting with CSSR responsible.
On Oct. 10: a short meeting with the general of the Redemptorists Michael Brehl.
I had given him a description about our work in Baghdad, the CES, the Greek Church, and the work of Fr. Meyasser (p. 1-4). Followed by two pages (5-6) about the Indian confreres who came to Baghdad in Sept. 1997.  About this last topic, Fr. General said: it is a different opinion according to the Indians and the Baghdadis. However he concluded that the Indians will never come back to Iraq.
About the continuation of the Baghdad project, we (Mgr. Bashar, who was passing by at that time) advised him to invite a polish or an Ukrain father (one or two) to come and teach in the CES and at the same time to learn Arabic and become acquainted with the situation. However, the Ukraine province is without a leader, and the Polish prefer not to go to a Muslim country.
Fr. Beco the archivist is very gentle and gives me his work on a Russian confrere. The rettore, Fr. Arturo (Mexican) receives Dahlia’s painting and says: if Father General allows me I might come to Baghdad.

The PIO Centenario celebration:
From Oct. 10-12 there were conferences about violence. It was an occasion to meet some of the professors, The promoter of |Dahlia (Fr. Abeid) and most of all: Fr. Vincenzo Ruggieri who had made a book about the miniatures of Tur Abdin and a book about the students, with an article of Dahlia about the refugees.
On the last day of the conferences we meet with Fr. Rettore, Nazar, a Canadian with Ukraine roots. The project paper is handed over and he makes some remarks. We make a distinction: if one of our students would come, he might be allowed to join immediately the three year cycle for licentiate, providing that he knows some Italian, and Greek and Latin. But what concerns the recognition of our CES, this is a complicated and long lasting procedure. Not impossible, but demanding plenty conditions. He refers us to the Dean, Fr. Pampeloni.  
Meanwhile Fr. Ruggieri studies our proposal and encourages us to continue.
On Friday, Oct. 13 official meeting with the Dean, Fr. Pampaloni. Again we presented the renewed papers with the demand. In the beginning he makes remarks about the students accepted for licentiate, without a diploma of 1 cycle, and about the conditions about languages and philosophy.
About our institute CES the following remarks were made:

1) The subjects of our courses should be presented in more detailed way, clearer and with bibliography (like in their callender).
2) A CV of the teachers should also be presented . A certain number of doctors is needed.
3) More importance should be given to the language courses, esp. Italian is a must.
4) The aim and reason of the CES (Eastern and Modern theology).
5) A description about the library and possibilities for the students to study.
6) He will then reply and make suggestions about our program.
Fr. Ruggieri promises to come to Iraq and to teach for a while, in order to give more importance to our institute.
3. Activities during the last 10 years.3.01: Teaching.Our main activity is caring for the theological courses in the newly erected Faculty: the Babylon College. Fr.Cop teaches exegesis, Fr.Bashar: morals, and Fr.v.Vossel: Sacraments, Eastern theology and liturgy, Patristics and church-history. Since 7 years we run a course for Patristics and Liturgy in Baghdad, which lasts 4 years and grants a diploma from the University of Nijmegen. This year about 50 students attended the courses. Fr.Bashar in his church (Mar Elijah) organizes courses for catechists.

3.02: Parishes.For the last 3 years Fr.Bashar was parish priest in one of the most important Chaldean churches of Baghdad. He did marvellous work: restoration of the church, building a school (300 children), a Kindergarten, church-groups, CP class…Since more than 10 years we are taking care of the Greek Catholic church because a priest is lacking. Masses, catechism, Patristic centre… When the church was destroyed in 2004 we rebuild it completely, with a splendid inauguration feast on July 16 last. The Chaldean Patriarch and some bishops attended. The Patriarch held a speech praising the Redemptorist Fathers, as the best congregation. As mentioned above, before the American invasion, we had a parish for foreigners, but since there is only one Mass in English kept. Fr.Cop and v.Vossel celebrate Mass on week- and Sundays in a sister-convent.

3.03: Cultural achievements.
Twice a year Fr.Bashar issues a booklet with sermon examples for the priests. He and Fr.Cop have preached several retreats for priests and sisters, and conferences for the youth. Fr.Cop started the edition of his 10 volumes exegetical work on the Old- and New Testament. We write articles in the existing magazines, Catholic and orthodox, on cultural and religious topics. Every year we publish at least 2 important books about theological and spiritual subjects. Last year: "Modern Christology", "The monastic movement East and West", this year: "15 days meditation with St.Alphonse", "The prayers of the Chaldean Holy Week, in Arabic", "Redemption in the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help", "Baptism in the Eastern Rites".
Erbil. Since the end of 2006 (November) the Chaldean Patriarchal seminary and the Babel Faculty for Philosophy and Theology are transferred to Ainkawa, next to Erbil, in the North of Iraq, for security reasons. During the school-year 2006-2007 the professors were housed in the bishopric of Ainkawa, and the students in huge caravan. The externs had a house on their own. The building of the faculty however, at some distance from the bishopric, is a new construction granted to the Chaldeans by the Kurdish government. Most of the teachers had to come over from Baghdad, by car or by plain. Some others came from Amman and from Rome. Thanks to the tremendous effort of Fr.Bashar Warda, CssR, the faculty could accomplish the whole programme within a reasonable timetable. Among the students attending the curses there were the Chaldean and Syrian Catholic seminarians, some students from the Syriac Church of the East, an Orthodox Armenian, besides some sisters and lay people.

Vacation in the Velle, and lessons in Erbil at the Babel College for philosophy and theology.
Center for Eastern Studies

Greek Melkite Church Baghdad

Study Program

4 year course

8 months a year
With 4 days a week:

Morning classes on Friday and Saturday
Evening classes on Monday - Wednesday


Eastern and modern theology
Exegesis: Old & New Testament
Morals & Canon law
Eastern Liturgy & Spirituality
Church History

History & General topics
Psychology & Anthopology
September 2019.

Our redemptorist bishop lives in the north, in Erbil-Ainkawa (Kurdistan) and is fully occupied by his duties as archbishop of the Chaldean diocese of Erbil. The other redemptorist father here in Baghdad is Fr. Meyassar Behnam, a Syrian Catholic, who became one of the best Chaldean priests. For several years, he was responsible for important Chaldean parishes, the last one St. Georgis parish were he did splendid work, till last week when he left for Sweden, where he preaches retreats, and then for a sabbatical year in Ireland. The other ex-redemptorist (May the Lord forgive Fr. Herman ten Winkel) who shares fully our lives and activities, is also a Syrian Catholic, Menhel Saloumi Kamel. He has done his novitiate here in Baghdad with the late Fr. Lucien Cop, and after a painful time with the CP, has remained with us. At this moment he is the priest of the Greek Catholic community.

Since the fifties of last century, we came to serve the Chaldean community by teaching in their seminary. We were several Belgian fathers each with his own special study branch. We helped also in their parishes and monasteries. Since about 20 years we also serve the Greek Cath. (Melkite) community which was left without a priest. In 2003 the church was completely destroyed by explosions, and we rebuild it on our own costs. We founded a Center for Eastern Studies in 2004, where only Eastern subjects are presented, while in the seminary of the Chaldeans these subjects were neglected, because they depend upon the Urbaniana university of Rome. However, every year, we (Fr. Meyassar and myself) go to the North, Erbil, where that seminary (Babel College for Philosophy and Theology) is now located, to teach our matters. Also this year we spend several months there.

Meanwhile we teach in our own institute (CES) in Baghdad, and also in the Chaldean Catechetical Institute, and give spiritual guidance to sister communities. Every month we organize a meeting to reflect upon our spiritual life in Iraq.

The most remarkable fact we realized this year was a symposium about Sufism (Islam mystic). Fr. Meyassar was first invited by some Muslim groups to share in their meetings (cfr. Scala some months ago), and on basis of his relations we proposed and organized a symposium about Sufism, where some of the Sufi doctors from the Sufi school in Baghdad could present a paper (talk), and some of our students from their part could speak about Syriac mystics, and about Western actual mystic movements.

During three weeks in June 2019, conferences and sessions were held about mystic and spirituality in Islam and Christianity. Several Muslim representatives from the Sufi school in Baghdad held a lecture and several members from the Center for Eastern Studies – Baghdad, took part in the session. From both sides they presented some important personalities and their mystic teachings. From the part of the Muslims: Hasan al-Basri, The school of Baghdad with Jounaid and al-Hallaj, al-Ghazali, Ibn al-Arabi, Al-Rumi, and from the part of the Center the Syriac mystics: John of Apamea, Isaac of Niniveh, Bar Hebraeus, and from the Western side: Raymond Lull, Louis Massignon, Paul Niwiya, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. A deep mutual understanding was created and a friendly atmosphere accompanied the learned conferences. A visit to important shrines of the Muslim Sufis was impressive and even a trip to the sacred city of Kerbela was organized, with in the neighborhood, in the desert, the ruins of an old Eastern church and the famous castle of Ukhaider, where the sheikhs and the Christian visitors shared a brotherly Bedouin meal, sitting legs crossed on the ground. The most impressive moment was when in the ruins of the church, together with the Kerbala learned Muslims we could pray, under the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

The Redemptorists are engaged in creating these friendly meetings between the different parties. Their mission is flourishing, except for the lack of persons and the neglect of the responsible. We urgently need a confrere who speaks English and is ready to share our quite primitive life, and who is able to teach some theological subjects, and little by little might pick up some Arabic. But most important he needs to have a big heart. We always remember the good days of dear Fr. J. Tobin, who tried by all means to save our small mission from the planned burial.

Here some pictures:
- Under the walls of the old castle al-Ukhayder, The two Redemptorists among the Muslim doctors of Kerbala.
- The students of our Center for Eastern Studies on a visit to the shrines of Muslum famous Sufis: Al-Junayd, and Al-Hallaj.
- In the desert church ruins together with our Muslim friends.
- An Arabic meal presented by the Kerbala people in the Castle of al-Ukhaydir.     

ACTIVITIES - B8  “2019-2020”
Reveu of activities CssR in Baghdad 2019-2020

P. Meyasser is in Ierland in Dundalk for one year vacation.
The Iris confreres like him and he seems to enjoy his sabbatic year there.
Fr. Menhel continues to celebrate the Sunday masses in the Greek Cath. Church in Baghdad even during the corona period.  He takes care of material things in the Center for Eastern Studies where he presented a short course about Islam.
This year we could publish two books: The Gospel of John, an introduction updated according to the last sources and followed by a translation of the short explanation of Raymond Brown.
We could complete the courses in the Center with exams. During the H.Week we presented special On-line courses about the different icons of the passion and resurrection.
Some additional courses were given on line: Modern Philosophy.
At the beginning of the corona crisis (May) we had a session of meetings during one month, with the teachers and students of the Mustanseriya university. They offered talks about Islamic culture and we about byzantine art and modern religious paintings. Each time the sessions ended with a meal and distribution of books.
I presented several courses in the CES and two courses online (each 24 lessons) about the salvation in the Eastern Syriac Church and another about eastern Christian art.
Finally, we published a book about Syriac Art, neglected and lost items: paintings, curtains, bema, martyrion, cross. Under the title: The Crumbs of the Children.
I travelled to Europe on Sept. 3th and stayed for 14 days in Belsele quarantine.
On Sept. 26 a meeting with Fr. Provincial was planned in Begijnhof.

4. Success and problems.

4.01: SuccessOn several occasions the Chaldean Patriarch has praised the Redemptorists in a special way. We might say that at this moment we are his favourite monks. The Dominican novice master and study prefect praise and use our books. We have great influence upon all the priests and religious, and through them upon a great part of the faithful. We are good friends with all the different rites, catholic as well as orthodox, and work close together with the Greek, Armenian and Assyrian orthodox churches. We started preaching Missions in the parishes and villages with the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to bring some redemption to the suffering people.

4.02: ProblemsApart from the dangerous political situation and continuous threat on our lives, there were some church difficulties, but thanks to God's grace we overcame. At this moment our main problem is the formation of the candidates, esp. those send abroad. We try to organize the Mission as fast as possible, but therefore we need candidates with a degree from universities, and according to our needs and work in Irak, like teachers on university level, and specialists in Eastern Theology, spirituality and Liturgy. Preachers who know their own traditions and aspirations of their people, without presenting themselves as foreigners, esp. if we might start a foundation in one of the christian villages in the North, there we need real monks who try to live in the line of the old syriac monastic way, still visible in the remants of the many churches and monasteries of the past.
July 2014, one of the students of our Center for Eastern Studies in Baghdad finished her first year at the university of Louvain, section theology, and was chosen by the foreign students to deliver a thanksgiving speech. Daliah Aziz.
Some months later, the director of our Center, Manhel Kamil Saloumi, was ordained priest by the Syrian Archbishop of Baghdad, according to a decision of two patriarch who met in Erbeil, The catholic Syrian and the Greek Catholic Melkite. On Thursday August 28 he was ordained in the Syrian cathedral of our Lady of Deliverance, in the presence of all the Chaldean priest and bishop Mar Giwargis of the Assyrian community. The next day, Friday 29 he celebrated his first mass in the Greek catholic church, where he was welcomed by the students of the Center.
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