by PATRICIA BROOKS
Bags of gifts and more than $NZ1000 were presented to a group of Iraqi refugees by Holy Land pilgrims from New Zealand when they visited a Melkite church in Amman, Jordan, last month.
The chance to visit a refugee centre was suggested by Jordanian tour guide Fadi Haddad, who is a member of St
Elias Melkite (Greek Catholic) parish.
The parish cares for more than 100 Chaldean Christian refugees who fled Mosul in Iraq when Isis gave them an ultimatum: convert to Islam, remain as Christians but pay crippling taxes, or leave immediately without any possessions.
Before leaving New Zealand, pilgrimage leaders Pat and Suzie McCarthy invited the pilgrims to bring gifts for children or money for refugees. Some involved friends and parishes in collecting items and money.
With little notice of the refugees’ arrival, St Elias parish at first could only spread out mattresses in the church hall. Later they built partitions for each family. Then makeshift dwellings the size of shipping containers
were placed on parish property.
Now, thanks to a share in a $1million Vatican donation for Jordan’s refugees, apartments have been rented for most
The pilgrims’ donations were given to the parish priest, Fr Gerge Sharayha, who will use them to buy furniture and
appliances such as washing machines.
The pilgrims ate lunch with the refugees, several of whom spoke English.
Tables stacked with toys and other gifts kept the children busy. The children, who had missed a year’s schooling but now attend a local Catholic school, especially liked exercise books and pens and pencils. There were also two birthday cakes.
One was for a girl who had been born in Jordan and was just one. The other was for her brother, who was six and born on the same date.
“It was good to be there to celebrate with them,” said Mrs McCarthy. “Life is not easy for these people, as they have to rely on the parish for power and water, food and clothing, in fact all the necessities of life.”
Fr Sharayha welcomed and thanked the New Zealanders in the icon-filled St Elias Church. He said his parish has
been enlivened by the arrival of the refugees with their rich faith. He told of the refugees’ heroic stand for their faith and challenged the New Zealand pilgrims to consider if they would have been prepared to do the same.
The refugees are unable to practise their trades or professions in Jordan, so some of the men have spent their time
building a large grotto in the church grounds. In Mosul they had a statue called Our Lady of Deliverance. This one is called Our Lady of Deliverance to Jordan.
Jordan, which has a population of seven million, has taken in more than two million refugees. The group at St Elias
parish had just learned that five families have been accepted by Australia. The rest are awaiting sponsorship by other countries so they can start new lives.