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Christian refugees
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Singing the Lord’s song in a new land

Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria come together with local Brisbane church members to celebrate the Easter journey. Sue Hutchinson reports.

My Catholic community of Bracken Ridge in north Brisbane has welcomed about 90 families from Iraq and Syria since last May. These Christians were brought to Australia as refugees, fleeing war and persecution in the lands where they have lived for generations.

They bring the traditions of their Chaldean and Syriac Orthodox Churches. Their prayer is in the Arabic and ancient Aramaic languages.

The gathering together of our church community in preparation for Easter was a deeply moving experience for every member. This year, in line with the Orthodox tradition, the journey began with a service in English, Arabic and Aramaic on the Monday before Ash Wednesday—Clean Monday, when there is strict fasting before noon and no meat or dairy products eaten for the whole day.

For some of the families, the fasting from meat and dairy products lasts the whole of Lent, which in the Orthodox tradition is for 50 days. A new friend explained that this basically means eating vegetables and olive oil; nothing from animals.

The Mass was followed by the sung Orthodox rites and anointing with holy oil, a prayerful and meditative experience performed by Fr Noor, an Iraqi priest who arrived with the families as a refugee and is now an Archdiocesan priest for the Iraqi and Syrian communities across Brisbane.

After years in exile, imagine the joy of those finally free to celebrate the Lent and Easter traditions in their own faith community!

Many of the families will daily recite the Prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian, written in the fourth century. This prayer lists all the elements of repentance and is virtually a checklist for an individual’s Lenten reflections. Perhaps it is a good prayer for us all.

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience and love.

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and forever. Amen.

As we welcome these families who have travelled so long and so far, may we give thanks for the rich spiritual gifts they offer and the resilience and faith which has guided their path.

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