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Syrian priest rages for refugees

  • 30 September 2015

Over the last few months, most days there's been heart-rending media coverage of the plight of Syrian migrants and refugees fleeing the conflict in that strife-torn country.

In his tour of the USA over the last week or so, Pope Francis reminded Americans that most of them have migrant origins, and urged them to treat migrants with generosity, respect and compassion.

The man featured in this interview is at the epicentre of the migrant and refugee crisis in Australia.

Thirty-three-year-old Fr Rahal Dergham was born and raised in Syria, and, for the last eight years has been chaplain to Syrian and Iraqi Catholic Migrants in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

In the interview he speaks candidly about what Australia and the broader international community should be doing to address the present refugee crisis, the persecution of Syrian Christians, and the troubled relations between Syrian Muslims and Christians.

Dergham grew up in a Catholic family in a village near the city of Hamah in central Syria. His extended family was very involved in the Church, and his grandfather was a Deacon.

At the completion of primary school in 1992 he felt the call to priesthood and entered a minor seminary for his high school years. After finishing high school he went to a seminary in Lebanon where he completed a Bachelor of Theology and Bachelor of Philosophy.

He was ordained as a priest in 2007, and in 2008 the Syrian Catholic Patriarch sent him to Sydney as chaplain to Syrian migrants.

The area where he grew up in Syria around Hamah and the nearby bigger city of Homs was the centre of opposition to the Asad regime. It was here, coinciding with the Arab Spring uprisings, that protests and violence began.

Dergham witnessed the violent suppression of protest by the police and military, and saw people shot and killed. After he left to come to Australia the situation deteriorated into bitter sectarian civil war.

Syrian and Iraqi migrants form the bulk of people in his care in Sydney, but he also works with Catholic migrants and refugees from Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon.

As well as providing spiritual services, the Mass and other sacraments, he also assists people with counseling and a range of social issues facing newly arrived migrants like housing, employment, and dealing with the police and government bureaucracies.

This interview is in two parts - Part 1 (11 minutes) above, and Part 2 (eight minutes) below:


Peter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and