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By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

NEWTOWN SQUARE – No one at St. Sharbel Maronite Church’s Nov. 7 memorial Mass for the victims of the Oct. 31 massacre at Baghdad’s Syriac Catholic Cathedral, Our Lady of Deliverance, had greater reason to mourn than Sabah Kakos.

The church in Newtown Square was filled with Christians from the Middle East. “We had Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, Jordanians, Armenians, Egyptians and Iraqis,” said Father Paul Mouawad, pastor of St. Sharbel, who concelebrated the Mass along with Father Passim Shoni, a Syrian Rite Catholic priest from Allentown. Most of the worshippers represented the various Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church but there were Orthodox representatives too, he said.

But for Kakos, who came to the United States a little more than two years ago, and who worships at St. Sharbel and also St. Pius X Parish in Broomall, the Iraqi cathedral massacre touched home. Our Lady of Deliverance was his parish in Baghdad, and his brother, worshipping inside, was killed. {{more}}

In spite of excellent English Kakos’ life as an immigrant has been challenging. At the moment he is job-hunting, but this latest tragedy is what is mostly on his mind. “It was the church where I was brought up. I attended the school next to the church and my sons attended it,” he said. “I was married there, and the young priests who were martyred were part of the Communion ceremony for my sons.”

His mother, brother and sister-in-law were inside church when the terrorists burst in, he said. His brother Salah, was killed, and his sister-in law, whose name he does not want in print, was seriously wounded. One of her kidneys had to be removed.

At first, in the confusion, it wasn’t known who was dead and who was alive. It wasn’t until the next day that a neighbor was able to confirm Salah was dead. The hardest part for the family and neighbors was breaking the news to his 75-year-old mother that she had lost a son.

In addition to his mother and widow, Salah left three children; a daughter, 12, and sons, 15 and, 17. All told, 58 people lost their lives and another 75 were injured in the attack on the Cathedral.

“I consider all the people there as my relatives,” Kakos said. “We are a minority and we all know each other. I was absolutely shocked when I heard the news.”

Most Iraqis, Muslims and Christians alike are sorrowful about the massacre, Kakos said. “This was so unpredictable. No one would like to see peaceable Christians treated like that.”

That is true in America too, according to Father Mouawad. His Maronite parish is mostly Lebanese – first, second and third generations in this country, and he sees Muslims and Christians do get along.

But in the Middle East, he believes nothing will be settled until there is a Palestinian homeland through serious negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

“There are half a million Palestinians refugees in Syria and Lebanon,” he said. “There is frustration and anger throughout the whole Arab world. Once a state of Palestine is recognized I think 85 percent of the problem will be over.”

On Wednesday, Dec. 1, there will be an interfaith panel discussion at Villanova University during which Muslim and Christian Iraqi refugees will discuss the reasons they left their homeland. The panel discussion will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Driscoll Hall, Room 132.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.