How the Surviving Divorce support group fills a need in the Chaldean community
By Monique Mansour
The need for healing in the Chaldean community prompted the inception of the Eastern Catholic Re-Evangelization Center’s newest divorce ministry. In particular, it was evident there was an immense amount of stigma attached to the “D” word: divorce. Divorce is a difficult experience for any person to endure, but it can be especially hard in the Chaldean community.
“I think the reason divorce is especially stigmatized in the Chaldean community is because of the shame and the fear that we’ll be judged for it,” explained Iklas Bahoura-Bashi. “However, whatever we keep in the dark is going to continue to have power over us, so if you speak your truth in a support group, you can bring that shame out into the light and it no longer has power over you. Shame is a powerful emotion that impacts and influences the way we behave and it shapes the way we relate to others.”
Bahoura-Bashi has a background in counseling, having received her graduate degree from the University of Detroit Mercy. She worked in community mental health for many years, spending a large portion of her time with Chaldeans who fled Iraq from the Gulf War in the mid- 1990s. Later, she opened up a private practice, but soon felt that the Lord was calling upon her to speak to the masses instead of individuals in a one-on-one setting.
Since closing her practice in 2010, she has spoken at various schools and community organizations, has written articles related to psychological and spiritual issues, and received her certification in Christian Life Coaching. Her passion is combining psychology with her Catholic faith.
Bahoura-Bashi drew upon her background, and along with the help of Patrice Abona, who has been the Executive Director of the Eastern Catholic Re-Evangelization Center (ECRC) for four years, but served as a volunteer for 10 years, developed a plan to create a support group, which is held at ECRC in West Bloomfield. The support group, titled Surviving Divorce: Hope and Healing for the Catholic Family, is inspired by a book of the same name, published by Ascension Press and written by Rose Sweet.
“Our community places a certain value on being married and having kids. It’s seen as a sort of status to achieve. So, once this status is no longer applicable to a person, they are seen as less than in the community. It’s really very sad because no one knows the circumstances surrounding the situation,” said Abona. “ECRC is always trying to fill needs in the community to help bring people closer to Jesus and His Church. When people go through divorce, they may feel that they are not welcome in the church. We wanted to start this ministry to dispel that false notion, but more importantly to help people heal from divorce.” Abona has been involved with ECRC on a volunteer basis before she began serving as Executive Director for more than ten years.
According to ECRC’s website, the mission of the organization is to, “Spread and strengthen the faith by providing Christ-centered programs for all ages. Our activities are devoted to leading people to an intimate encounter with our Lord through the Eucharist and the Scripture.”
The Surviving Divorce support group held its first session at ECRC on Thursday, July 12. It will last for thirteen weeks, until October 4. The hope is to have the program be offered two times a year. Sessions always begin with prayer and hospitality. Then, a twenty-minute video related to a particular theme attached to divorce is watched and then discussed and processed. Sessions end with a focus on how to help families heal from divorce, with practical tools attendees can utilize to help their children through the process.
“It’s important to us that our attendees know that Iklas and I take confidentiality very seriously. We want people know this is a safe place to come to and look forward to, a space that is free of judgment,” said Abona.
“Many people ask me about the annulment process, and I want others to know that the Church has been trying to streamline the process,” explained Bahoura-Bashi. “Receiving the annulment gives people the perfect peace that God wants them to have. It also provides closure, is liberating, and gives people the strength and the courage to put the divorce behind them so that they may move forward.”
Both Abona and Bahoura-Bashi have been so inspired by the support they’ve received from the clergy in regards to the group. “We’ve personally contacted the Chaldean Diocese and they are all very aware of the need in our community. They’ve been incredibly supportive, which has been more than wonderful,” said Abona.
“The outpouring of love and support from the priests has been nourishing,” said Bahoura-Bashi. “There’s a need for an increase in trust in our community in general and this group is taking a huge step to help achieve that.”
Those interested in learning more about the Surviving Divorce support group can visit https://www.ecrc.us/ surviving-divorce/