Sydney’s Syriac Catholics are set to build a home for its fast-growing community after receiving development approval for a church and pastoral centre in Sydney’s south-west.
With parish priest Fr Lenard Ina they are also celebrating paying off the loan for the 3.5 acre property destined to be the centre of their sacramental and parish life at Kemps Creek.
The parish within the Archdiocese of Sydney has a small church in Concord, but most of its families live in the south-west.
Over the years it has relied on other churches and schools to accommodate masses, sacraments, funerals, youth group activities and catecheses in the area. Its Palm Sunday celebration was, for example, held in the school hall at Patrician Brother’s College, Fairfield.
Fr Ina unveiled the plans for the first stage of the building project after his community received council approval on 7 February.
The next step is securing a construction certificate; the parish has launched a new fundraising drive to support the $5 million dollar project.
It’s an extraordinary achievement. When Fr Ina arrived in Sydney in 2015 there were around 125 families and $25,000 in the parish’s bank account.
Now hundreds of families are pulling together towards their goal, including dozens of Syriac and Chaldean families in Canberra who also belong to Fr Ina’s flock.
The Syriac Catholic Church is a sui juris Eastern church in communion with the Holy See.
Fr Ina was one of many Syriac Catholics from northern Iraq who fled a brutal takeover of their villages by ISIS in 2014.
When he arrived in Australia he got to work helping to secure everything people needed: places to live, jobs, schools for their children and even transport to get to Sunday Mass.
With administration coordinator Raghdan Bashir, he lost no time in fundraising and searching for a location for a new church and says the enthusiastic support of parishioners has been essential, along with that of the Syriac Catholic apostolic visitor Archbishop Georges Casmoussa and Syriac Patriarch, His Beatitude Ignatius III Yonan and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.
“Really, it’s God working, not us,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
“I firmly believe that God has arranged everything for us. In my experience, if a work is good for the people and good for the mission, God makes everything work smoothly.
“Sometimes we have obstacles but afterwards we can see how God solved everything.”
“We needed to purchase land worth $2.6 million plus stamp duty. It seemed impossible. But now we’ve paid off the loan.
“The land and our presbytery in Fairfield is now fully paid for. We believe that God has provided, 100 per cent. We are weak, but God is strong.”
Project architect and parishioner Eman Basheer said that a large building already on the property would be renovated as a church and multipurpose hall.
“My father, Wadie Gergees, was the first Syriac Catholic deacon—appointed by Cardinal Pell—and from the beginning he and the first parish priest, Fr Michael Berbari, had a dream of a big church and a vibrant community here in Australia.”
Now that dream is coming true.
Michael Digges, executive director, administration and finance for the Archdiocese of Sydney, said that the archdiocese strongly supports the initiative at Kemps Creek.
“We are as excited as the Syriacs with this development,” Mr Digges said.
“Indeed, it represents growth both in the Catholic community and support for people who have escaped persecution in their home country.”