The expected influx of 25,000 refugees boosting Canada’s Syrian population prompted Pope Francis today to appoint Beirut native Rev. Antoine Nassif to serve as the country’s first Syrian (Syriac) Roman Catholic bishop.
The Pontiff announced that Bishop-designate Nassif, 47, currently the rector of a seminary in Charfet, Lebanon, will be based in Laval, Quebec’s third-largest city, which has become a magnet for Syrian migration to Canada.
Until now, a Syrian bishop in Newark, New Jersey, oversaw Canada’s current flock of 16,000 Syrian Catholics and their five priests and two deacons.
Gaby Daoud, the chairman of Laval’s Syriac congregation, welcomed the news.
“Our congregation comprises all nationalities,” he told The Suburban in an interview, “but the majority of our nearly 1,000 families are Syrian.”
Laval’s Syrian community has taken the lion’s share of Syrian refugees who began to arrive in Quebec last month.
“We received about half of those aboard the planes that have arrived in Montreal,” Daoud said. “We’re helping to welcome them, though not all will necessarily eventually be settled in Laval. They are coming to us first and then they will settle throughout the Greater Montreal region.”
He underscored that Laval’s Syrian Roman Catholics are not limiting their humanitarian efforts to their own community.
“Every week, more families arrive,” Daoud continued. “Not all of them will remain in Laval and some of them are from other communities but we help all of them, regardless of creed.”
The new Canadian diocese will be called Sainte Marie Reine de la Paix, subtly signalling the Pontiff's hope that newcomers from war-torn Syria will, at last, find peace in Canada.
Syriac Catholics have been present in Canada since 1976, the Vatican said in a statement.
“We have been in Laval since 1992,” Daoud added.
Fr. Nassif was born in Beirut, Lebanon and ordained a priest in 1992.
He is not related to Canada’s eponymous newly elected Liberal Member of Parliament, Eva Nassif, who represents Vimy riding in Laval, a spokeswoman for Nassif told The Suburban.