SURREY—A growing and vibrant community of Catholics from the Middle East is moving into its own church in B.C. for the very first time.

“Yesterday was a great day for me because I got the keys to the church,” said Iraqi Father Sabah Kamora, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Mission, on Dec. 2.

“We are so proud to have a name here in Canada and to share with the banners of the churches in Surrey and all around Vancouver.”

Sts. Peter and Paul was established for Chaldean Catholics from Syria and Iraq in 2005. Since then the growing community has been using borrowed space from parishes in Surrey (most recently St. Andrew Kim) and operating around their schedules.

Now, Father Kamora is thrilled the Chaldean community – an estimated 1,000 families strong – has its own place to worship, baptize, catechize, and more in its native Arabic.

“For 15 years, these people were looking for an area to worship God,” he said.

Two dozen enthusiastic parishioners flocked to the new church Dec. 2 to celebrate, sing, and pray with visiting Chaldean Bishop Bawai Soro from Toronto and Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako from Baghdad.

“I cannot tell you exactly how I feel inside, but this is a big thing happening for us. We are very happy,” said parishioner Basim Alsendi, who moved to Canada eight years ago.

Chaldean clergy and parishioners in front of the altar of their new church, previously owned by Immanuel Korean Church in Surrey.

For Abdulmsih Abdi, who moved to Canada in 1992, the church feels like home. “It’s our place. Nobody tells us what to do or what time we have to do the Mass,” he said. “Now we have a place where we can have all people come together to pray.”

The church was previously owned by Immanuel Korean Church in Surrey. It currently seats 180 people, but Abdi hopes renovations will help increase seating capacity, add a choir loft, and prepare classrooms for the 220 Chaldean children signed up for catechism.

Bishop Soro, originally from Iraq, said the church blessing was especially symbolic for him; he was installed in Toronto as the bishop for all Chaldean Canadians three days earlier.

“It’s amazing we can preserve our ancient faith although we are thousands of miles away from our homeland,” he told The B.C. Catholic.

An estimated 40,000 Chaldeans live in 10 parishes and missions across Canada, said Bishop Soro. They are located in Surrey, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Montreal, and several cities in Ontario. Eight of ten, including Sts. Peter and Paul, have their own church structures.

“We are first-generation immigrants, barely starting a second generation,” said Bishop Soro. “We are just starting, yet we can feel very deep and sincere faith in the hearts of these people.”

Patriarch Sako of Baghdad says a blessing at the altar surrounded by other Chaldean clergy Dec. 2. On his right is Iraqi-born Bishop Soro from Toronto.

While Bishop Soro, Patriarch Sako, and other clergy stood at the altar to bless the church, a group of parishioners joined them in singing a solemn Arabic hymn.

“The subject of the hymn is what Peter confessed to Christ, of him being the Son of God, and what Jesus replied to Peter: ‘You are the rock and on this rock I establish my Church,’” explained Bishop Soro.

“It’s a very famous hymn. It has several pieces that come together, and it concludes by saying: I will build my church upon the rock.”

Father Kamora, the only Chaldean priest in B.C., expects church renovations to be complete by February. He plans to offer three weekend Masses and hopes to have a bus shuttle parishioners from the parking lot at Guildford Mall to the new church.

The church currently seats 180. Father Kamora hopes to offer three Masses on weekends.