By Jennifer Meram
A new convent and seminary within St. Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Diocese has young men and women devoting their lives to the church, as well as helping new Iraqi refugees.
The Seminary of Mar Abba the Great and the Workers of the Vineyard Convent, are two new establishments created in recent years at St. Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in East County, San Diego. Both institutions allow men and women to pursue the religious life, devoting their lives to God while giving back to the local community. Currently with 4 seminarians and 6 women in the convent, the seminary and convent create and lead youth retreats, hold bible studies, have tutoring programs for refugees, run a Chaldean media center, and manage a Saturday church school for low-income refugees.
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Services, approximately 19,910 Iraqi refugees have come to the U.S. from the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 to February, 2009. Iraqi Christian refugees have immigrated to San Diego, where a large community live in East County with Chaldean Catholic churches serve as the center of their community. Fr. Michael Bazzi, pastor of St. Peter’s Cathedral, said there are close to 50,000 Chaldeans living in El Cajon, the second most concentrated city with Chaldeans in the United States next to Detroit.
Devoting a Life to God and Church
David Stephen, a 20-year old Chaldean Catholic seminarian at Mar Abba the Great Seminary, came to this country when he was 10-years old. He said he relates to the struggles and hardships refugees today face, and wants to be able to help them adjust to a new lifestyle–a reason why he wants to devote his life to the church and the Chaldean community.
“It’s hard to come to a new country where you don’t even know the language,” said Stephen. “God has a calling for me, and I know he wants me to help these newcomers and teach them what I’ve learned through the years.”
Sr. Miskenta Mariam, the Mother Superior of the Workers of the Vineyard, said that new Chaldean refugees often times don’t have much after they flee from Iraq. Most suffer from religious persecution and have trouble adjusting to society. Sr. Miskenta said that the Chaldean community is a family where everyone helps each other in times of need.
“We all have a calling. Mine so happens to be the religious life,” said Sr. Miskenta. “I realize it’s not for everyone, but helping the community and serving the church makes me happier than I’ve ever been. These refugees need help, and I’m able to help them more than I ever could by being in the convent.”
Sr. Miskenta will take her final vow for a life of obedience to the diocese and the bishop on Thursday, May 10th, at only 25-years old. She hopes that the convent will be able to start a new school using the church’s facilities to educate and assist Chaldean refugees and the youth in the community.
Helping a Family
Other organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus and Ladies of Hope, also assist in fundraising money and supporting Chaldean refugees. Every Friday at St. Peter’s Cathedral, donations from St. Peter’s congregation and other churches in the diocese, pay for mattresses and blankets to be distributed to those in need. Refugees also seek help from other non-profit organizations, such as Catholic Charities, as well as the government.