The success of Sydney’s Syriac Catholics
Surely one of the fastest-growing parishes in the country is the Syriac Catholic Church, Sydney.
It is a vibrant part of the Archdiocese of Sydney with Fr Lenard Ina the chaplain for the community across Sydney and also Canberra, as well as its only priest.
Fr Lenard ministers to around 720 families, many of them having arrived in recent years after fleeing persecution from ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
He’s responsible for all of the Masses, the baptisms, weddings, funerals and other sacraments and stays on call for his flock scattered over the city and beyond.
The COVID pandemic has seen Father Lenard and his team work hard to expand their social media outreach and keep in regular touch with parishioners, including hitting the road to deliver blessed palms and Holy Eucharist for Easter and gifts at Christmas.
Then there’s the extra work “a priest wouldn’t normally do” – helping people to find places to live, employment, schools for their children, giving advice, helping with paperwork, and generally providing any possible assistance materially and spiritually.
To say he’s busy is an understatement, but after experiencing the effects of war in his native Iraq he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Iraqi Exodus
He and many of his parishioners were directly targeted by ISIS in 2014, in a brutal takeover of their villages in the country’s north.
All were given three choices; convert to Islam, pay a heavy tax, or be killed.
Fr Lenard was parish priest of a church in Bakhdida (also called Qaraqosh) that was ravaged by ISIS.
“The majority of people decided to leave and they left everything they owned behind,” said Father Lenard.
“Maintaining their belief in Christ is everything for them.
“As St Paul said, they would count the loss of everything as nothing if they can have Christ.”
Later, he was dismayed to find some of his parishioners living on the streets in neighbouring Kurdistan where they had fled for refuge.
“That was actually my biggest shock. I was full of sorrow for them,” he said.
“But through the grace of God and the help we received from all the churches around the world, especially large donations of money from the Syriac Catholic church in Sydney and the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and the Eastern Churches as well, we were able to overcome these distressing and difficult obstacles together.
“We were helping people with food and water, clothing, places to live.
“That was when we discovered the true meaning of priesthood, based on the Teacher who came to serve and not be served.
“I have learnt to keep a smile on my face no matter what happens and to serve with love without any complaint.”
A strong community for struggling Syriac Catholics
Fr Lenard is supported by parish secretary Farah Baraz, administration coordinator Raghdan Bashir and a dedicated team of volunteers.
But he says it is still a struggle to meet the needs of both newly arrived refugees and those wanting to pass on the best of their ancient Christian culture and tradition to the first and second generations of Australian-born Syriac Catholics.
While it has a church in Concord, most parishioners live in the city’s southwest so for Masses the parish regularly relies on the generosity of other churches and schools to accommodate them, as well as catechism classes for the children.
Easter and Christmas Masses are trickier to accommodate, as are the burgeoning youth and young adult and social outreach initiatives.
Thus Fr Lenard has overseen the purchase of 3.5 acres of land at Kemps Creek and the parish is awaiting approval to renovate a shed on the property and build a church and multipurpose hall.
Later on, they hope to be able to add a child care facility.
“I have a passion for not only supporting our older new immigrants who struggle with adapting to life in a new and very different country, but our youth and young people,” Fr Lenard said.
He has no doubt the Syriac Catholic church, with its strong faith tested literally by fire and the sword, will become a missionary church in this part of the world.
“I want to do big things for our young people, because we will look to them to help build a strong society for the future, to be faithful witnesses of Christ and also of their unique historical legacy,” he said.
SYRIAC CHURCH APPEAL
Donations to assist the Syriac Catholic parish to raise funds for a church at Kemps Creek, and to aid its charitable work in the community can be paid by bank transfer to:
Syriac Catholic Community Church
BSB: 062784 Account Number: 4045202
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
By Marilyn Rodrigues. Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.