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Syriac Catholics celebrate milestone with blessing of new church foundation stone

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Syriac Catholics Sydney - The Catholic Weekly
Patriarch Mor Ignatius Youssef III Younan with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the site of the planned Holy Family church at Kemps Creek. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

A new home for thousands of years of Christian tradition is a step closer, after the Syriac Catholic Church blessed the foundation stone for a new parish and pastoral centre in south-west Sydney on 8 July. 

Patriarch Mor Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East for the Syriac Catholic Church, travelled from Lebanon for the historic occasion, hosted by Fr Lenard Ina, parish priest of the Syriac Catholic Church in Sydney and Canberra. 

His Beatitude was accompanied by a delegation of faith leaders including the Apostolic Visitor of the Syriac Catholic Church in Australia and New Zealand Archbishop Basilius Georges Casmoussa, Archbishop of Bagdad Ephrem Yousif Abba, Bishop of the USA Barnaba Yousif Habash, and Secretary of the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate Monsignor Habib Mrad. 

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Thanking his patriarch, the apostolic visitor, and the Archdiocese of Sydney for their support over the years, Fr Ina said his fast-growing community of more than 1000 families had “long dreamed of this day.”  

The foundation of the planned Holy Family Church ultimately lay in Christ, he added. 

His Beatitude commended the “harmony” he saw among the faith and civil leaders in their support for Syriac Catholics and their church building project, and mentioned his friendship with Cardinal George Pell, whose tomb he had visited two days prior. 

“I am sure he is in the kingdom of God praying for us,” the patriarch said. 

Syriac Catholics Sydney - The Catholic Weekly
Patriarch Mor Ignatius Youssef III Younan inserted a new time capsule into the foundation stone of the new Holy Family parish, before it was blessed with all the religious leaders present. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

He also spoke of the persecution and oppression which impelled many Syriac Catholics to make their home in Australia.  

“The truth is, unfortunately, people nowadays are still persecuted, displaced from their land, and being killed in the name of religion,” he said. 

Syriac Catholics follow similar traditions to Eastern Catholic traditions such as the Maronites and trace their origins to the first Christians of Antioch located in modern-day southern Turkey and are also located mainly in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. 

The Syriac Catholic Church is in full communion with the Holy See and has been present in Sydney for four decades. It was a refuge for many from northern Iraq, including its pastor Fr Ina, who fled persecution by ISIS in 2014. 

While it has a church in Concord it has relied on other churches and schools in the south-west to accommodate Masses, sacraments, funerals, youth group activities and catechesis. 

His Beatitude thanked the supporters present for “sharing our joy” at the milestone and expressed his hope that Australia will always be a place of welcome to all, especially those seeking to live with “religious freedom and dignity.” 

Last year the community received development approval for the church and pastoral centre at the Kemps Creek property, which will serve the spiritual and pastoral needs of the majority of its more than 1000 families who live in the south-west. 

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and other representatives of the Archdiocese of Sydney were special guests along with other local religious leaders including Chaldean Archbishop Amel Nona, Coptic Orthodox Bishop Daniel, Antiochian Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop Basilios Kodseie, Armenian Patriarchal Vicar Monsignor Basil Sousanian, and Maronite Vicar General Monsignor Marcelino Youssef. 

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP addressing those present. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

Political leaders present included Liverpool mayor Ned Mannoun, Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen, and Member for Leppington Nathan Hagarty representing Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese sent a message of congratulations that was read out before the blessing of the foundation stone at the front of the 3.5 acre property. 

Syriac Catholics have proved to be a “great gift to the Catholic Church and to Australian society,” Archbishop Fisher told the Patriarch. 

“I know it is a great pain to you and your brother bishops that so many have left your holy lands after being driven out of Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. 

“But your pain is our gain here in Australia because you have been a real strength to the Latin church and the whole Catholic church, people of faith and to our broader secular community too.” 

Hagarty said that for many members of the community their place of worship is “an intimate and integral part of who you are.” 

“This is not just another growing community, it is a unique and special community that is part of the most successful multicultural nation on earth, and the reason for that is because we can live here and express our faith and identity free from persecution and oppression,” he said. 

“The story of the Syriac Catholic church coming here today is another very important chapter of that.” 

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