“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9
By Vanessa Denha Garmo
Here is a question for men in the community: Are you your brother’s keeper? If you ask those who started and participate in a men’s group, they would answer with resounding, “yes, I am.”
It was the question Jeff Kassab asked of himself when he and friend Bashar Kirma were chatting about men in the Chaldean community. “We struck up a conversation about men who seem so lost and need guidance,” said Jeff. “We started talking about prayer and what it means to be a man of faith. From that conversation, we decided to start a men’s group and we called it Genesis 4:9 because we truly believe we are our brother’s keeper.”
This was to be a true brotherhood — no wives, sisters, moms, daughters or aunts allowed. The first meeting was about three years ago at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and about 35 men attended. Today, Jeff has an email list of nearly 400 men and more than 200 men are active in the group. “We have learned that we have many of the same struggles,” said Jeff. “We have speakers who come in and talk about a variety of subjects like pornography, attending church, marriage and what it means to be a man bringing his family into the faith.”
“This ministry really reflects the strength in the church,” said Pelar Esshaki. “The strength in the family makes the church stronger. A faithful father and husband strengthens the family. Our families need a faith leader at home.”
It is about brothers, beer and BBQ. The guys will often go out after the talk and get a bite to eat – often BBQ – and a beer to drink. They started to meet every other month at Mother of God Cathedral in Southfield. Most recently, they decided to rotate locations to include St. Joseph.
Pelar was not always a man of deep convictions. He had a reversion to Catholicism. “Jesus was not much more than Santa Claus to me,” he said. “I didn’t have a relationship with Christ. When I met my wife and her devout Catholic Family, I became stronger in my faith.”
As Pelar grew closer to Christ, his wife’s faith grew stronger. They were leading each other as husband and wife to Jesus. “Our faith skyrocketed and our relationship is stronger than ever,” he said.
Parents of soon to be nine children, they are raising their children in the faith as they to continue to evangelize to others. And, so are the men of these ministries.
The goal is to bring more men into the ministry. “It is growing but compared to the community, it is still a small number,” said Esshaki. I don’t see as many men in the Chaldean churches as I do in the Latin Rite churches.”
Joseph Stephan got involved in the group from the beginning and as a project manager by trade, organizing events for the men’s group was a natural task for him. After attending a Man Up retreat, Stephan felt a strong nudge from the Holy Spirit to organize a men’s conference for the Chaldean community. “Every person we talked to about the men’s conference was 100 percent on board,” said Joseph. “You don’t always see that kind of support. It was amazing. Everyone was backing us up on this conference.”
“A venture like this takes a lot of planning,” said Jeff. “We worked on this for months and were blessed to bring in speakers like Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers and Justin Fatica.”
Like many others, these men have busy lives. “This ministry gives men the opportunity to talk about their relationships with Christ, with their spouses and with their families,” said Joseph. “In our culture, our emotions are tied to us at the hip. We can bring our concerns to each other. I have had men ask me how they can get their family to pray together because they have never prayed before. This ministry has shown these men how to have a prayerful life. I have learned so much about my friends through this ministry. We are helping eachother.”
Jeff, Pelar, Bashar, and Delone Arabo all approached Fr. Pierre separately about wanting to start a men’s group. “It shows this desire to discern what God is calling of these men,” said Fr. Pierre. “We prayed about this and we knew this ministry was what God was calling us to do.”
Within the Genesis 4:9, a goal is to challenge men to form their own groups within the larger group. “Perhaps different men can invite men to hang out at their house around a sporting event and some beer and then talk about their lives, their families, their faith and their role as fathers. Men relate to men and women relate to women. It’s human nature,” said Fr. Pierre.
“When you look at the statistics, you can see the importance of a father’s role in the family,” said Pelar. “Stats show that children without fathers have a greater chance of going to jail. There is a significant role the father plays at the leader of the family. There are things a man brings to the family that a woman can’t bring. Children look to their dads as heroes. A boy should look to his dad and know what it means to be a man and a daughter learns from a father how a man should treat his wife. Fathers shape the family.”
Fr. Pierre Konja often quotes the same statistics when he talks about a father’s role in the family. “These stats are staggering. They show if the father is a regular church goer, the children are substantially more likely to attend mass, something like 80 percent and only 30 percent if the mother is a regular church goer,” said Fr. Pierre. “When you look at the world, family is at the root of the problems in the church, in society and in history.”
Not discounting a woman’s role in the faith and family, Fr. Pierre merely notes that it is different than a man’s role. “I felt very compelled to promote this men’s ministry so men can bring their families to God. Women have an important role to educate their kids too, but when you see your father kneeling to the Lord or praying the Rosary, it has a profound impact on the family.”
Stephan views the role of faithful man similar to the parable, ‘if you give a man a fish, you feed him for the day. If you teach him to fish, he feeds his family for a lifetime.’ “There is nothing more important than a man’s role in his family,” said Joseph. “As a husband, I am supposed to lead my wife to Christ. We cannot be afraid to show our kids how we pray. We must take action. We must show them how to build a relationship with Christ.”
“I wish more people would ask this question about their role as faithful fathers so we can give the answer,” said Jeff. “Without men leading their family to Jesus Christ, their family is doomed. There is no question about it. As much as the mother does to lead the family to church, it is not the same as when a man does it.”
Acknowledging a woman’s role, Jeff noted, “women have important roles in the family, of course they do, but we need the men in our community to realize their responsibility. Man was created first. God put him in charge. From the center of his body, He made woman. He made them equal. A man has a certain responsibility to take care of his family. When you talk to women, they will say they want their husband to take charge of the family.”
It is about showing, not telling. “When your children come home and they see their father with a Bible or Rosary and they see him praying, it is a powerful testimony,” said Jeff. “You don’t have to preach, you have to show. You can preach it all you want, but to make a difference, you must live the faith.”
The Breakfast Club
Every morning a group of men attend mass at ECRC. What started out with a handful of men among a group of 40 some people during the Lenten season about seven years ago, evolved into The Breakfast Club.
A group of men hang out after church, have coffee, breakfast and talk about faith. “We usually start out talking about the Gospel reading and homily,” said Faris Acho. “Helping others is what today’s homily was about and you are hearing Shamasha Salam Rabban tell his story about doing just that.”
On this day, the men engaged in storytelling about faith and good works. The room fills with laughter and joy, telling stories and sharing jokes, but most of all talking about the faith.
“There are many men who think being Godly is not fun,” said Tom Naemi. “They focus on things instead of God and are away from the church. They think the church is about rules and it takes the pleasure out of life. In reality, it is our faith that brings us joy, peace and serenity. You wake up calm. You look forward to going to church and joining in on this brotherhood.”
In the background, Leo talks over Naemi and he shouts, “Leo!”
“See now, he is not mad at me because he knows I love him. If he yelled at me, I wouldn’t be mad, because I know he loves me. This is a brotherhood.”
Fr. Pierre Konja, ECRC’s pastor at the time, approached Shamasha Salam Rabban about celebrating daily mass at 8:00 a.m. during the fasting weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. “We saw the turnout. We saw this hunger. Fr. Pierre asked us to pray on it. The Holy Spirit worked and we continued with daily mass even after Easter,” said Shamasha Rabban. “It became our 24-hour energy. We couldn’t wait for mass the next morning. There was such a hunger for Christ.”
They attend mass daily to listen to the word of God, “and to have it sink in our minds, our hearts and our lives,” said Shamasha Rabban.
Every day they apply a verse from the bible to their day. “That is how we live our day,” said Shamasha Rabban. “We live according to the church teachings and the bible. We come meek and humble to praise the lord every morning. We are like a small flame that is warming up the whole pot. We are a small group of men but we offer our prayer to the whole community.”
Shamasha Rabban recalled handling the entire morning mass duties by himself in the beginning. “You had no customers in the beginning either,” chimed in one of the men, followed by laughter from the group.
Ibtahal Atisha started making coffee and offering light refreshments in the beginning. Rafed Yaldo started bringing cheese and bread.
The after-mass coffee turned into conversations about how to encourage more people to attend morning mass.
The men credit Sally Najor, Aliya Mazi, Maha Samona and Atisha for keeping the breakfast club going.
Each day, a different priest celebrates mass and often on Tuesday and Friday, Bishop Francis is the celebrant and homilists.
“The breakfast club conversation flows from the mass,” said Faris.
Yaldo started to record the mass and the cheese he brought to munch on after mass is what birthed the Breakfast Club. “We started to go to the kitchen for Rafed’s cheese,” Shamasha said with laughter. “We made what we called the ‘healthy sandwich’ – a slice of swiss cheese with bread and toasted it in the oven and while we waited for the cheese to melt, we talked about faith.”
It then turned into an all-out breakfast. Different people took turns bringing food, making a variety of traditional Chaldean dishes like hareesa, ghamar, kaletcha and even more elaborate breakfasts for the holiday season.
“We are nourishing our body and souls,” said Mike Awdish. “These daily masses and talks are my daily bread. The homily, the mass, it gives me insight for my day.”
“The day I miss morning mass, something is missing from my life,” said Mukhles Samona. “I feel it. I enjoy coming here to see each other and to share the word of God. It carries me through my day.”
The men started to bring friends and family to mass. Khairi Samona was encouraged to attend mass by Saad Samona. “I first thought, wow, 8 a.m. that is early for Chaldeans. I started coming and I love it. I am semi-retired. I started having responsibilities like kitchen manager,” he continued as they laughed.
The Breakfast Club conversations after the 30-minute mass have become a bonus for the group. “We feel good all day,” said Khairi.
“One guy who comes here used to go the casino and stay up late almost every night and now he comes to mass every morning,” noted Tom. “You don’t know what you are missing until you start attending daily mass.”
Daily mass and the Breakfast Club is now very much part of their lives. “I enjoy coming here,” said Awdish. “I enjoy being with the guys here. I met all of these guys here and they are now my friends.”
“I started coming here during Lent,” said Acho. “During this Lenten time, you take care of the one thing you are focused on. I thought coming to daily mass would be a good thing for Lent then when it was over, I thought this would be good to do every day throughout the year. I kept coming. I realized I was surrounding myself with good people, holy people and being nourished through the gospel and homily. We discern things about our faith and life during our Breakfast Club conversations. I invite others to attend. It is a 30-minute mass and we spend about another 30-minutes with the Breakfast Club and it’s an hour of my day. If you are looking for something to do during lent, take on a daily mass.”
“We love it, we have built a camaraderie,” said Naemi. “We have good friends here. We really love each other.”
“We pray for others,” said Khairi. “We have collected donations for people in need.”
“This daily mass is such a big part of our lives and we are used to waking up and coming to church and when we don’t, we know something is missing,” said Awdish.
“The friendships we formed are priceless,” said Mike.
“My faith means a lot to me of course and to my brothers here,” said Saad. “We have our Catholic freedom to speak to God our father and invite the Holy Spirit in. We don’t come here passively. We come here to receive the Eucharist. We receive God’s graces. This daily mass helps me with my life. I talk about my faith with my family. I share it with my wife and daughters.”
Shamasha Salam didn’t set out to help people’s marriages but his faith and this journey he is on has led him to help others. He credits much to his breakfast club group who he shares stories with regularly.
“He is a peacemaker,” said Saad. “We come here because we enjoy seeing my brothers daily and it stays with me all day and keeps my mind in order.”
Leo Zoma learned about ECRC through the monthly healing services by Bishop Francis and Tom Naemi. In 2014, Leo was suffering with back problems that were progressively getting worse. A cousin mentioned the healing mass. With a herniated disc, Leo attended and upon Tom praying on him, he fell out in the Spirit. The pain started to subside. “I thanked our Lord the pain was gone,” he said. “I was amazed. I went to ask Fr. Frank at that time what I should I do to get closer to God. He pointing to the cross he carries and said, ‘increase your prayer.’ I started to attend daily mass. Every time I attend, I feel I am living a piece of heaven on earth. I am closer to God. He has given me a comfortable and happy life with peaceful and good people around me. I am amazed and appreciative.”
The men continue to express their gratitude to everyone who keeps the breakfast club going. “We appreciate Aliya and Adnan. They work so hard to keep our club going,” said Saad. “We come here and hear so many stories of faith like people healed through Tom’s healing service. We understand the sacrament more. We talk about salvation, church and our sacraments.”
“We encourage people to come to daily mass and join our Breakfast Club,” said Mike Samona. “Come and give it a try.”
“Men who are the head of the family and are faithful men are role models to their kids,” said Leo. “I have four kids. We pray the Rosary every night or the Divine Mercy prayer. We cannot live without prayer.”
“We must take what we receive and share it with others,” said Saad. “We take it to our friends and family. We share this knowledge. I share these stories with my wife and children. We talk about morality and Shamasha shares the Catechisms with us. We can take that information to others. If we get something wrong, Shamasha corrects us.”
Sharing faith can be a struggle for some people but through these men’s groups, it is becoming easier for others. “We share the truth,” said one of the group members. “The truth lies in knowing Jesus Christ.”
“Being a daily communicant, we understand attending the mass is living it,” said Shamasha. “We hunger for Christ. We hunger for the truth and we know Jesus Christ is the truth. To come to have Him dwell in us is powerful. That joy of Christ, the happiness He brings, we receive through prayer. We receive graces and love through prayer of mass. It is the highest prayer we have in the church. We take it out to the world and we profess it. The Eucharist breathes life in us.”
The daily mass and their Breakfast Club Group has changed these men. “You are more patient,” said Faris. “Things that used to bother you, bounce right off now. When you come and see what really matters, God gave us only Son got die for us, that changes you forever. God cares so much about us and He gave his son for me and for you. We are so unworthy. We are very humbled; we get lowered and lifted up at the same time.”
“You appreciate your family more,” said Mike. “You feel closer to them.”
“When you attend mass daily, you a realize what really matters,” said Shamasha Rabban. “Life is beautiful and life is worth living. God gives us guidance.”
“This is about being joyful and happy,” said Tom.
They found fulfilment in faith. It is intertwined in all areas of life including their work life. “You can have money,” said Acho. “You can’t allow money to have you.”
“Faith is sufficient. It gives us what we need,” said Shamasha. “If we think about what we want, it is endless but when we look at life from a faith perspective, we get what we need. We can’t live this rat race and take our eyes off God. You will always just want more. Earthly things die. If we think about spiritual things, that gives us life.”
Leo was working 18 hours a day and seven days a week and barely found time for his family let alone his faith. “I didn’t see my family,” he said. “I barely paid my bills. When I gave my life to God, everything turned around. I am not stressed any more. I can pay bills and take care of my family. That daily Eucharist is the security I need. We are supposed to start Heaven on earth. Hearing God’s word daily, allows us to do just that.”
Each man in the Breakfast Club actively invites others to attend daily mass and join their morning discussions.
“Men who don’t go to church and join a men’s ministry don’t know what they are missing,” said Saad. “We didn’t know. We came here to learn and our lives changed. Our families changed. Our kids changed.”
Faith has become a part of every aspect of their lives. “You cannot separate faith from your work and daily life; you have to live your faith completely,” said Saad. “I cannot say I am at work and I am going to live this way. That is picking and choosing. Our faith life must be part of every area of our lives.”
“When we leave mass, we have Jesus in our hearts,” said Faris. “Some people go to church to check the box and they don’t want to connect to Christ throughout the day. Jesus wants us all the time”
“Sometimes when we talk about Jesus, people say it’s too much,” said Saad. “They don’t want to hear more than one line. They walk away.”
“As Christians we represent God everywhere; we have to bring light where there is darkness,” said Leo.
“Everything we discussed here today, we discuss all the time in the Breakfast Club,” said Faris. “We ask ourselves these same questions
Men in the Church
The idea for a men’s group at Holy Martyrs was initiated by the desire to fill a void. “Our parish/community has many groups dedicated to many causes, except for men/fathers who are the head of their families, hence, the idea of starting a group for men,” said Shamasha Yousif Elias. “Our group, Martyrs Men was established in January 2017 and we chose the name to reflect Holy Martyrs Church in Sterling Heights.”
The group – primarily Chaldean Catholic men – meets once a month on the first Thursday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. “We recognize our need for God’s help,” said Shamasha Elias. “We gather in an atmosphere of trust and equality to share Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Catholic Church to the world. We unconditionally accept each other and prayerfully support one another.”
Up to 20 men typically attend the meetings that focus on a variety of topics including current news stories, “and how these stories impact our faith and families,” said Shamasha Elias. “We discuss different topics of interest to the group. Social, religious and personal topics of interest are discussed in an atmosphere of love and brotherhood.”
Shamasha Elias says the group is a calling that took about two years to bring to fruition. “As a father, husband, and brother, I felt the need for this comradery and this support from men of faith,” he said. “I saw the need within others as I started praying for this group and planning its inception with my friend Raad Kashat.”
Like Genesis 4:9 and the Breakfast Club, the men of Holy Martyrs want to deepen their faith. “We want to support men’s Catholic faith, grow in spirituality, and strengthen families,” said Shamasha Elias. “This ministry will try to enrich the reality of the Church, over and above the experience of the Sunday liturgy. It also focuses on men who have lost the yearning for the Catholic faith and are minimally or not active in the Church.”
Their motto is, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17.) “At the other end of the scale, the ministry offers very active men a means to step back to take time for spiritual growth.”
All Catholic/Chaldean men 18 years and older are invited to join the group. “We need the support and strength of each other. We’re not going to talk at you, but you’ll find a humble, hospitable, and brotherly atmosphere, in which we share our experiences and offer support to each other. We’re planning our second Lent retreat in March, come join us,” said Shamasha Elias.
The Men’s Ministry
Whether it is Genesis 4:9, the Breakfast Club or the Men of Holy Martyrs, these men of faith are part of growing ministries within the community. “We sometimes have a hard time getting across to other men the importance of our faith or coming to a meeting,” said Pelar. “They look at it as another church thing. It is about saving souls, saving our community. Look at what the world offers and what our community is getting involved in. We need to lead our kids and generations after them to Christ.”
“God, though Jesus, has revealed himself and that is not an accident,” said Fr. Pierre. “We receive our fatherhood from God. We are created in His image – His love, sacrifice, mercy and patience. With God in your marriage and families, you can change the world. Your children will know God and they need to know that God loves them. When you know the real love of God, you can reflect that love on your family and bring Him to the world.”
Genesis 4:9 will be meeting on March 15 at St. Joseph. The featured speaker is Dr. Ralph Martin, professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary and President of Renewal Ministry. ECRC and the Men’s Group are planning for another Men’s Conference in 2019.