Patriarch encourages youths to hold fast to Christ amidst challenges during 12th Syriac Youth Convention in Farmington Hills
FARMINGTON HILLS — An estimated 120 youths from across the country gathered at St. Toma Syriac Cathedral in Farmington Hills for four days of prayer, catechism, fellowship and community for the United States-based Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance.
The 12th Syriac Catholic Youth Convention, held July 6-9, gathered youths from 13 parishes spread across seven states, allowing the retreatants to reconnect with their faith, meet other fellow Syriac Catholics and be in communion with one another — something that is a particular challenge for Eastern-rite Syriac Catholics in the United States, with just 16,000 members spread across the nation.
“The meaning of the Church is to be together,” Bishop Barnaba Yousif Habash, bishop of the Eparchy Our Lady of Deliverance, based in Farmington Hills, told youths on the first night of the convention. “This is the identity of the Church, to be together as children of the Church, surrounded by our fathers of the Church, our teachers, our leaders. May the Lord teach and guide us as we gather together, to a by a synodal church together.”
Bishop Habash said there is a joy in gathering as disciples of Jesus Christ, citing times throughout the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles when Jesus’ disciples experienced great joys through joining together to pray and give witness to Christ.
“We as disciples of Jesus know what it is that is the source of joy in our life,” Bishop Habash said. “Because we have Jesus, we have joy. Here today, now, we are able to express and share joy in the name of Jesus, with Jesus, as we are people of Jesus. As St. Augustine said, we Christians are the people of alleluia, of joy.”
The Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance was erected by Pope St. John Paul II in 1995 to cover all of North America for the Syriac Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic church of the Syro-Antiochian rite that’s in full communion with Rome. Syriac Catholics in the U.S. primarily hail from Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Since 2016, the eparchy covers only the United States, 13 parishes spread across seven states.
Michigan, which is home to the largest number of Syriac Catholics in the eparchy, has three Syriac Catholic parishes: St. Toma in Farmington Hills — which became the cathedral of the eparchy in 2022 — Christ the King in Troy, and St. Isaac of Nineveh in Lansing.
The spread-out nature of the eparchy produces challenges in building the Syriac community, said Bishop Isaac Jules Boutros, youth ministry coordinator for the Syriac Catholic Church, who lives in Lebanon.
“We are a small community, all over the States and all over the world,” Bishop Boutros told Detroit Catholic. “So it’s always good for us to meet together and share personally our relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our Lord and Savior. And when we meet him as a community, he gives us a common message to build up our Church. Even though we’ve been separated from our original countries, we are here, called for a new vocation in a new land, a new country, to build up his kingdom here. To build up a good state, a good country, good human beings.”
The convention featured liturgies, catechism, social gatherings, sermons from Bishop Habash and Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, the first bishop of the eparchy, and trips to Frankenmuth and downtown Detroit.
“We have a spiritual side of the convention where we pray and spend time in meditation with God, and the social side where we meet new people, get together for trips to Frankenmuth and Detroit, a youth party that’s Hawaiian style, so it’s both spiritual and social,” said Dalia Pulus, a St. Toma parishioner who lives in Farmington Hills but was born in Baghdad, Iraq. “It’s especially nice to be together, since we’re the minority here in Michigan (among Middle East Christians), so it’s great to meet people across the country from your community.”
Maryam Abdulmaseeh, also a St. Toma parishioner who was born in Baghdad but now lives in Madison Heights, said the convention is a chance to learn more about her faith traditions and culture.
“It’s important for me to come to events like this because I’m Syriac; I have to participate in these kinds of things so I don’t forget where I come from originally,” Abdulmaseeh said. “If I forget where I come from, that means I don’t have my own history, my own culture.”
Abdulmaseeh reflected on the challenges the Syriac people have faced throughout history and why it’s critical for people of her generation to learn more about their unique faith traditions.
“(Syriacs) were always being killed, threatened by other people,” Abdulmaseeh said. “We were one of the first Christian people, and we were always harassed. It’s nice that we’re here (in the U.S.) and alive, but I wish the Syriacs would go back to their own church (Syriac Catholic churches) and learn about their own history and learn about their own people.”
Bishop Boutros said encouraging youths to explore their heritage and maintain the faith of their fathers and mothers is a big challenge for the younger community, especially if there are not many fellow Syriac Catholics nearby.
“Our priests cannot be everyone at once and reach out to all of our families and young people, so this is a challenge for the priests, especially for areas where there is only one parish that covers an entire state,” Bishop Boutros said. “It’s a big country, a big land, so he can’t do it all and reach everyone. (Events like this) go a long way in vitalizing our communities, continuing the mission in this new country.”
The first day of the convention ended with a speech from Patriarch Younan on the challenges young people face in being disciples of Jesus Christ in an ever-secularizing world.
“We are here to follow the Lord Jesus,” Patriarch Younan said. “Whatever is happening in our lives, it is a time of difficulties and challenges, as you all know. Mostly for our dear youth, you are acquainted with the media, the social media you follow. Some of you are enthusiastic about the technology of our times, so you are in contact with people who tell you not to follow Christ.”
Patriarch Younan reflected on the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. John, when many of Jesus’ followers left Him, troubled by the teaching they would have to eat his flesh to achieve eternal life.
Patriarch Younan said today’s youth are asked the same question the apostles were asked, and they must respond the way Simon Peter did, replying, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
“Jesus wants us to listen to each other, to open our hearts to the difficulties and the cries we all face, the temptations we all face,” Patriarch Younan said. “That is what it means to be in companionship, in friendship with the Lord and with each other. That’s what it means to be a synodal church. We know it is not always easy, especially of the youth. But as it is said, we keep going, trusting in the Lord Jesus, who has the words of eternal life.”