Deportation still a threat

In 2014, Secretary Kerry labeled the atrocities committed against Christians and other minorities in Iraq a genocide. Vice President Pence reaffirmed the designation in 2017 but that has had little impact on the Trump’s Administration’s plans to deport members of our community.

Despite recognizing that Iraq is highly dangerous, particularly for religious and ethnic minorities, on June 11, 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began arresting and detaining a large number of Iraqi nationals – most of whom are Chaldeans – in preparation for deportation.

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Contours of the community

The word “contour” suggests a boundary; an outline or an edge. It’s used in the context of everything from wine, to maps to geometry. The contours that define Chaldeans are easily identified: God, family, community. But these contours are then framed, supported and validated by community institutions that exist to protect and build up these values. In my view, these institutions are under constant attack—often by the forces of modernity, materialism and apathy.

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In memoriam

The community and the Shenandoah family in particular were shocked by the sudden death of Kays “Kenny” Zair last month. Kenny was a loving husband, father and grandfather. Over the years, he was a fixture at Southfield Manor and then Shenandoah. He also was a past President of the Chaldean Iraqi Association of Michigan. He was known for his light-hearted good cheer and friendliness. It is not without notice that Kenny passed away at his second home, the Shenandoah Country Club. Kenny will be greatly missed by his family and friends. The loss of his presence at Shenandoah will be felt by many. Kenny was the ultimate Nadee’ (Club) man.

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In who do we trust?

When our oldest daughter was about six months old, her first word was not mama or dada. It was “hi.” Not only did she know how to say it she seemed to sort of know when to say it. It was sort of ex­traordinary actually and it was kind of cute. But then it also became annoying because she would say it all day long every time a physical person crossed her line of vision.

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When breath becomes air

Life and death. Those are big things. The beauty of life and the mystery of death are topics for the ages. These ideas were captured in all their majesty and mercu­rialness in a 2016 book by Paul Kalanithi titled When Breath Becomes Air, which was recommended to me by a friend.

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Michael G. Sarafa, special to the Chaldean News

Michael G. Sarafa, special to the Chaldean News

After 15 years and over 200 written columns and articles, I’ve decided to move away from opinion pieces and controversial topics and cover the little things in life. My new column will be entitled It’s the little things...

I took this occasion to review many of my past columns which proved to be a trip down memory lane. I wrote much about politics and religion, often at the expense of making my partners and me a target of those less open to intelligent discourse. I famously called for Pope Benedict to resign which caused more trouble than it was worth despite turning out to be very prescient. I wrote extensively about Bishop Ibrahim’s leadership of our Detroit Diocese, Mar Delly’s ordination as Cardinal and much more. I had the unique honor of interviewing two prominent American Cardinals — Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Tim Dolan of New Jersey —and, very early on, Archbishop Allen Vigneron.

I had much to say about the situation in Iraq over the years as well, including a series of inept leaders and the tightening noose on Iraq by Iran. I am reminded now that the precursor to U.S. second Iraq invasion was the 9/11 terrorist attacks which history has proven to be a total non-sequitur. I opined heavily over the years on politics and elections, including how much elections do matter. Again, just this past month, we’ve seen that this remains true.

I wrote about a chance encounter with a Holocaust survivor in East Lansing and a fascinating trip I took to Cuba before the Cuban opening. I took liberties with my pen to advocate for Shenandoah when it was struggling and to provide the community with updates and explanations about Bank of Michigan during my time as CEO.

While I tried to veer away from writing about personal issues, I did take the opportunity to talk about my late father in one June issue for Father’s Day. I also wrote an article about Dad’s and Daughters which drew heavily on my own experience with my daughters. While my oldest child was a toddler when we started the Chaldean News, she grew to pen several articles herself as a high school and college student. After the Newton massacre, I reminded everyone to hug their children a little more tightly from then on. The world had changed.

I was an early partisan against Kwame Kilpatrick whose character flaws were evident to me but not so much to many of the City’s movers and shakers. More recently, I have used this column to decry what I believe is also a very flawed presidency. Among other unprecedented things, Trump’s bad hombre dragnet snagged hundreds of Chaldeans who had already served their time and were living productive lives in the United States.

I wrote several obituaries for people very close to me or that I admired from afar. These include my Uncle, Michael George, James Jonna, an early pioneer, John Loussia whom we lost prematurely and Fred Delly, who was murdered going to work one summer day in Detroit. The column also paid a postmortem tribute to Jim Bannon, the former Deputy Chief of Police in Detroit during the Coleman Young years.

I’m sure I will be moved to cover similar topics and events in the future. But going forward into 2019, I want to cover the little things in life. These might include some acts of kindnesses, happenings in nature, important world news that doesn’t make headlines and more. As I grow older, my appreciation for the little things has grown immensely.

As we enter the Advent and Christmas season, we have the great- est example of the importance of little things in the Baby Jesus who came to earth in smallness and humility. Pope Francis reminds us that a Christian life is not one of epoch-making gestures but small daily actions— “a witness that begins in the morning...”

I will endeavor to shine a light on these daily actions of others. I could use your help. If you come across any little things that might be worth mentioning, let me know. I would love to write about it.

Merry Christmas to all.

Clergy abuse should not be a political football

Michael Sarafa

Michael Sarafa

Call me cynical but the timing of an announcement of an investigation into the seven Catholic Dioceses in Michigan is politically charged, coming just six weeks before election day.

The State of Michigan is asking people to report abuse by priests or other religious figures between 1950 and the present. Suddenly, it seems, it’s time to investigate the Catholic Church over a time period going back 70 years.

I am not in this space suggesting that this should not be done or that Michigan was somehow immune to the international crisis in the Catholic Church that caused and continues to cause so much pain and suffering. But there are three things that happened that I believe cast a shadow on the intentions.

First, as mentioned above, we are on the heels of a statewide election. Second, we have seen a penchant for going after figures and institutions with investigations of state and local officials related to the Flint water crisis and a whole series of political moves related to the Nasser scandal at Michigan State University.

My stomach churned a little at the site of a TV commercial that touted handling of the Nasser case. The idea of exploiting this disgusting chapter in Michigan State history did not sit well with me. I believe that it will not sit well, either, with Michigan voters. Frankly, it casts a dark shadow on the capabilities and instincts of those political advisors that would create such an ad.

Finally, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania released a devastating report on abuse at most of the state’s Dioceses that involved hundreds of priests and thousands of victims over seven decades. That Pennsylvania official gained instant fame on the national stage. No doubt people were watching.

Clearly, the more light that is shone on these terrible events, the more victims have an opportunity to come forward, the more abusers that are outed, the better for all involved. Victims need justice and healing. Perpetrators need to pay their debt to their victims and to society. The Catholic Church needs to bring itself as an institution out of the dark ages.

Thus, this type of investigation should be welcome. But the fact that this issue is seemingly being exploited for political purposes diminishes it’s import and potentially insults the victims. Sexual abuse of minors and adults should never be politicized.

Go ahead, call me a cynic.

Michael Sarafa is Co-publisher of
the Chaldean News.

Young Chaldeans poised to take over the world

Michael Sarafa

Michael Sarafa

This month’s CN covers two outstanding young Chaldean men who earned early admittance to the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, one of the premier undergraduate business colleges in the world. There’s at least one other from the community who we were able to identify. All three are the sons of medical doctors.

The preferred admission process for this program is highly selective. For those admitted on a preferred basis, the average high school GPA is 3.89. The average SAT score is 1480 and the average ACT score is 33. Less than 20 percent of those that apply are accepted and the applicants are the creme de la creme of high school students from around the country. (Less than half are Michigan residents).

But these young men represent a generation that is destined for great things. Repeatedly, in the
last several years, we have seen astonishing success of the new Chaldean generation in school, in business and in the professions. We are just two generations removed from a community that was largely farmers and merchants. There is barely a Chaldean more than 50 years old who was born in the United States. The elements of this success seem deeply imbedded somehow in the DNA of our forefathers.

The speed in which individuals in the Chaldean community have risen to the top of nearly every profession and excelled in business opportunities far and wide is truly remarkable. I recently had lunch with a highly successful Chaldean man who has had great success in Florida who told me he continues to be impressed with the younger generation each time he visits Michigan. No where else in the country, he told me, does he see the hustle, the work ethic, the risk taking, the business acumen and the brain power.

I think — please excuse the hyperbole — that the young Chaldeans born in the 20 years between 1985-2005 are poised to take over theworld. And why not?

It’s hard to predict what their children will come to be and how connected to the community they will stay. But the current cast, for the most part, are still steeped in Chaldean culture and history. Each of the next generations will be less and less so. History dictates that this will be true.

But for now, the promise of this generation will prove to be one of the great success stories in the long and storied history of the Chaldean people.

Rise up, young Chaldeans! The world is yours!

I’ll take more taxes and my friend’s dignity back


The arrest of hundreds of Chaldeans by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over the last 18 months is well known and has been well documented in these pages. But it is important that we remember, on an individual basis, the human cost of what was done.

A friend of mine was one of those picked up by ICE just before Christmas last year. He ended up
spending six months in Calhoun County Jail before being released in June. The crime he committed happened more than 35 years ago. He’s now in his 60’s.

During his confinement, I visited him twice. Both times he cried when I came and cried when I left. He looked distraught. He was confined to a 10 ft. by 12 ft. cell with another inmate for 18 hours a day. When he couldn’t breathe late  at night, they would give him a nebulizer as if he had asthma. One guard, if she was on duty, would let him walk around to calm his anxiety. There were nightmares.

Yes, he’s out now, thanks to a ruling by a federal judge – which the Trump Justice Department is appealing. Yes, he’s back with his wife and he’s back to work, though his dog died while he was away.

But the nightmares and anxiety continue. He wakes up in a panic at the thought of those in jail he became close to that are still there under the threat of deportation. He dwells on the young Mexican mom that used to walk around mumbling about her kids. In her mid-20’s, she looked 50, he told me. There was the Chaldean guy in a wheelchair. My friend is sure he’ll die in prison.

I’ve invited him over the house five or six times for rice and curry. That’s what he was craving when he came out. He called the other day to apologize for being distant. He’s not himself, he said. He’s having trouble sleeping and wants to be by himself all the time. He goes to work but says he’s in a daze. His appetite is gone.

He asked me if I knew a psychiatrist. I suggested he start with a psychologist. He still wants to come over for rice and curry, but he needs some time. The scotch we would talk about having together when he came out, that’s not going to happen. Having a drink with a friend is something to do for fun and to celebrate. Life is no fun for him anymore.

I reminded him on a visit to jail, that he was a Trump supporter. His wife voted for him with his blessing. He is not a citizen so he can’t vote. She won’t be voting for Trump next time around, that’s for sure.

When my friends and colleagues extol the virtues of Trump, we hear about the tax cut, about the low unemployment rate, about Neil Gorsuch being on the Supreme Court.

I’m good with all those things. But I would gladly trade all of them for my friend’s dignity and happiness. They were stolen from him by the American government. I hold Trump personally responsible.

When I go to the polls in two years, I won’t be thinking about my marginal tax rate. I’ll be thinking
about my friend.

Michael Sarafa is Co-publisher of
the Chaldean News.

Trump's immigration stance riles Christian community

Michael Sarafa

Michael Sarafa

The idea of taking children away from the parents strikes against the core values of any person that’s ever been in a family. It feels wrong, counterintuitive and amoral. When the Trump administration decided to start prosecuting adults trying to enter the U.S. illegally, the natural consequence was to separate them from their children, who would not be prosecuted. Thus, there was a rationale for the policy, but it got overrun with opposition from across the political spectrum. Those opposing this policy including the First Lady Melania Trump—and all the other living First Ladies. It also included a wide swath of the Christian community. Pope Francis tweeted on June 20: “We encounter Jesus in those who are poor, rejected or refugees. Do not let fear get in the way of welcoming our neighbor in need.” 

Francis also expressed solidarity with the U.S Conference of Bishops stance on this issue which was even more strident. At the U.S. Bishop’s Conference in June, which was also attended by Bishop Francis Kalabat, leading American clerics slammed the Trump administration. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of the Houston Texas Diocese was able to speak from authority both as the current head of the Bishop’s conference but also because he hails from a border state. He compared the asylum requests of those fleeing harsh condition in Central and South America to abortion. “At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life.” DiNardo continued regarding Attorney General Sessions’ pronouncement of ‘zero tolerance’ that “the decision negates decades of precedent that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence.” Tucson, Arizona Bishop Edward Weisenburger went a step further calling on “canonical penalties” for Catholics involved in implementing these polices. In other words, taking steps like preventing people from participating in sacraments because of their involvement in an immoral practice.

“Canonical penalties are there in place to heal,” Weisenburger said. “And therefore, for the salvation of these people’s souls, maybe it’s time for us to look at these [penalties].” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, who I interviewed for the Chaldean News several months ago, proposed that a delegation of Bishops visit the border areas. And Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, a close confidant of the Pope’s, also weighed in. “Immigration policy is a moral question that cannot be separated from decisions of right and wrong, of justice and injustice. It is about respecting and reverencing the dignity of the human person,” O’Malley said. But it wasn’t just the Catholic Church leadership. The Southern Baptist Convention also called on the Trump administration to develop a pathway to legal status for those fleeing poverty and despair “with an emphasis on protecting family unity.” The United Methodist Church followed suit and squarely took on one of their own, Attorney General Sessions who is Methodist. Their conference passed a resolution calling on the Justice Department to “immediately discontinue separating children from their families due to the zero-tolerance policy.” Christian denominations and their congregations span the political spectrum are anything but monolithic. But on this issue, there has been near uniformity of opposition. The core of the Christian message is to love another. On the issue of separating immigrant children form their parents, it’s hard to dissemble this teaching any other way. Thus, Christians stand united. It seems Trump, a Christian himself, did get the message.

Michael Sarafa is Co-publisher of the Chaldean News.

Questions about the experience at Mass

Mike Sarafa

Mike Sarafa

 As we’ve travelled over the years with the kids, I always made sure we would attend Mass, even if the travel was not over a Sunday. I think one of the greatest testimonies of the Catholic faith is its universality. In fact, the definition of Catholic is “universal” coming from the Greek roots kata-holos or “according to the whole.” Today Catholicism is largest Christian denomination and the largest uniform religion in the history of the world with over one billion people identifying themselves as Catholic.

In the Latin Right, on any given Sunday or weekday, at churches big and small and flung far and wide in every corner of the world, you would likely hear the same readings and the same Gospel. The order of the Mass is mostly consistent throughout every dioceses in the world and the prayers, though in different languages, almost identical.

In attending various Chaldean Rite Masses recently, I’ve been struck by several things that seem either inconsistent or imprecise. Though better than the old days, it is still shocking to me the number of congregants that can’t make it to Church on time. At one noon Mass recently, the Church was half empty at procession time but completely full by the time the Gospel was read. It’s not like that was an 8:00 am mass either.

But I want to point out some issues that I will pose not as criticisms but as questions.

Some people, as they enter the pews, stand and say a prayer before they sit. Should they do this if they are late, for example during the readings when everyone else is sitting?

During the kneeling parts, many people stand. I used to think these were people with bad knees, but I think some people simply choose to stand instead of kneeling. Is that an option for people or are they just doing it out of habit or some other reason?

At some churches, there are processionals and recessionals with the priests entering and leaving down the aisles. Some just enter and leave behind the altars. Is there a standard one way or the other in the Chaldean Liturgy or is this optional according to each priest’s preference?

In any case, regarding the recessional, congregants pour out of the pews before the priests exits and while the choir is still singing. This is not something common in the Latin Rite. Should the pastors address this at the various parishes?

The use of incense seems all over the map with each Church and each priest doing something slightly different. Are there proscribed rules for the use of incense?

If the Mass is identified as an “English” Mass, is it necessary to read the Gospel in both languages? At a recent funeral, the Our Father was also said in both languages. I can see a purpose for this at times, but is there any uniformity to when this is done?

Some priests want to scare the dickens out of people about receiving communion if you are in a state of sin or have missed Mass without confessing. My guess is that this is probably canonically correct. But isn’t this an important and sensitive enough issue that the preaching on it should be somewhat consistent?

Some Churches read the same Prayer of the Faithful out of the book every week. Some take the effort to prepare more distinct and timely ones. Personally, the latter feels better to me. Can’t all the Churches accomplish that?

When are we supposed to make the sign of the cross? Dozens of times during the Mass, prayers begin with “Glory be to the Father…. and In the Name of the Father…” These times during the Mass are a free for all with some people making the sign of the cross sometimes, others not at all, others all the time. Not even the priests are consistent with this.

I really don’t know the answers to these questions but have been observing some of these things over the years. The Chaldean Mass is rich and beautiful and steeped in history. The Latin Mass and the new Epistle are thematically consistent and based on a universal Church calendar that syncs the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist into a consistent message for the day.

I don’t think Mass should be about process or precision. But the final question is this: Would it enhance peoples experience and encounter is if was at least a little more so?

Michael Sarafa is Co-Publisher of the Chaldean News.

This Mother’s Day, Barbara Bush reminds us of the importance of a purposeful life

Michael Sarafa

Michael Sarafa

In watching the news coverage of Barbara Bush’s funeral last month, I was struck by a recurring theme. Bush lived her entire life with a sense of purpose. For a woman of her generation, this largely meant raising her children and supporting the business and political life of her husband.

As the First Lady of the greatest generation, as author and eulogizer John Meacham described her, she waited for word about her husband after his plane was shot down near a tiny Japanese Island. Bush, then 20 years old, was the sole survivor of his nine-member crew. He carried out his bombing mission before parachuting out of a burning plane.

Once married, they had six children but lost daughter Robin to leukemia at 3 years old. When Barbara Bush died last month, there were 14 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, including one born just days before her death.

She is only the second woman in U.S history who was both a spouse and a mother of a U.S President, the first being Abagail Adams, who was present at the founding.

Her son Jeb, former Governor of Florida said this when he eulogized his mother: standing at the lectern in St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Bush said, “As I stand here today to share a few words about my mom, I feel her looming presence behind me and I know exactly what she’s thinking right now: ‘Jeb keep it short, don’t drag this out. People have already heard enough remarks already. And most of all, don’t get weepy.’ ”

Bush kept it short, but did get weepy when he described his mother, who was famous for her grey hair that she never dyed, as “beautiful to the end”.

“Barbara Bush filled our lives with laughter and joy,” he went on. “And in the case of her family she was our teacher and role model on how to live a life of purpose and meaning.” If Barbara Bush was to be judged only by that standard, her life was remarkable. Though the Bush clan shunned the term dynasty, all the children and nearly all the grandchildren have embraced civic and charitable activism as a way of life.

Barbara Bush had one fundamental goal beyond her family: to address literacy in America. She believed fundamentally that people, young or old, that could not read or write, would not be able to participate in the great American Dream. Her foundation, which survives and thrives today, is the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. George H.W. Bush wore socks with books on them at her funeral to honor this legacy.

Most certainly, Barbara Bush was of a previous generation. In this, the year of the woman, it might be good to take some pause to honor the roles of mother and wife. Yes, women offer so much more, much more than men in most cases in many categories.

But this Mother’s Day, let us not ignore the tremendous purpose and meaning involved in supporting one’s own family. This is Barbara Bush’s legacy.

Michael Sarafa is Co-publisher of the Chaldean News.

On leadership, Trump and sociopathy

At the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1990’s I took a leadership class as part of my graduate program. It was a one day a week, four-hour class from 2:00 – 6:00 on Wednesdays. One of the chief ways you study leadership is to study leaders. And that’s what we did. We spent a lot of time dissecting common characteristics in leaders and powerful people.

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Poor governance to blame at MSU

Two are older than 80 years. One of them coached the 1988 Michigan State Rose Bowl Championship football team.  I was in Pasadena that year as a 21 year old. The other octogenarian has served in this capacity for over 30 years. Two others are former MSU football players. One of them played professional football. Another is a lobbyist; another a former legislator.

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Opioid epidemic reaches crisis proportions

Two-thirds of all people that ever hit the age of 65 years old in the history of the world are alive today. In the United States alone, approximately 10,000 per day turn 65.Those are staggering demographic statistics that will impact the U.S. economy and public policy in areas like health care, employment and more. But those demographics also speak head on to another point. People are living longer than ever due to advances in science, medicine and technology.

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Dastardly Iraq

A young Iraqi woman is receiving death threats. Her family, inside Iraq, is on the run.  Iraqi officialdom is apocalyptic. Why? Because Sarah Idan, the 2016 Miss Iraq winner, took a photo (a selfie) with Miss Israel. Idan was in Las Vegas recently, representing Iraq in the Miss Universe Pageant for the first time anyone has done that in nearly 50 years. At Idan’s suggestion, she and Adar Gandelsman (Miss Israel), took a selfie and posted it on social media with the caption “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel."

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