The Iraqi Priest

Today I interviewed Abbé Noël Farman for a story I am writing for Alberta Views. Abbé Noël Farman is a priest of the Chaldean Order of the Eastern Catholic Church who hails from Iraq. He is now the pastor at two Calgary churches: the Francophone parish Paroisse Sainte-Famille, and St. Mary Chaldean Parish. I will profile Abbé Farman’s life as a priest in Iraq, his journey from the Middle East to Canada, and his becoming a citizen last year.

Abbé Noël Farman is a fascinating man. He was born in the village in Iraq where Noah’s Ark landed, and worked as a journalist before he became a priest. He has a wife and three children; many churches within Catholicism, as it turns out, allow for married priests. One of the five languages Abbé Farman speaks is ancient Aramaic – the language of Jesus Christ – and during the Holy Thursday ritual, Farman recites for his congregation the words of Jesus exactly how they were first spoken at the Last Supper. Even as a non-believer I find this powerful, and I can’t wait to begin writing Farman’s story.

But one item from our conversation today affected me more than the rest. Last October, in Baghdad, terrorists massacred fifty-eight Iraqi Christians at a Catholic Church. After the disaster, two Calgary Muslims, a mother and her university-aged daughter, contacted Abbé Farman. The women were also from Iraq and requested a meeting with the Abbé. The three Iraqi-Canadians finally got together this morning. The women wanted to meet Farman to express their condolences for the massacre in their common homeland. They sat together in the church rectory for hours and spoke about the tragedy, about the country they all love but were compelled to leave, and about their new, better, lives in Canada.

I was struck by the quiet sincerity of the women’s gesture. This was not an act of official diplomacy. There was no photo-op. No camera crew. No stiff handshakes for the evening news. This was not about politics or optics. This was an expression of sadness and friendship between ordinary people who share a language and a birthplace – though not a faith – and who refuse to grant a victory to the men with guns. And this happened this morning, quietly, on a regular Wednesday, and the rest of the city carried on oblivious to the grace blossoming at its centre.

There are days I dislike this city. The day after the election was one of them. And then there are days like this.