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From Baghdad to Chicago, Redemptorist finds faith


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Twice in his life has Fawaz Kako heard the airplanes overhead, the bombing and shooting and screaming of an air raid on Baghdad. The first time he was only 10, a young boy hiding beneath his desk and fleeing with his family to a safer place. The second time he sought to provide comfort as a Redemptorist brother, a worker in the Catholic Church to which so many flocked for shelter. Kako’s life as a Redemptorist has brought him from Iraq to Germany and now to Chicago, where he is studying at the Catholic Theological Union.

Kako grew up in Baghdad as the youngest of 10 children. At school, his teachers helped him learn Arabic, since Aramaic was his first language—one of five he speaks today.

“I remember my parents would tell me every morning before I left to school, ‘In case the teacher asks if you saw Mr. President on TV last night, say that yes you saw him, and my parents liked it—we all love Saddam—something like that,’” Kako recalls.

He also remembers finding a bit of irony in Saddam’s representation in his grade school classroom.

“We had a picture hanging there of Saddam and every morning we’d say, ‘Good morning, Mr. President,’” said Kako. “But the funny thing was that the picture was above the trash can. ”

Kako’s experience growing up in Baghdad was very influenced by the Catholic Chaldean rite church, which tried to keep a balance between the Islamic society and a 1 percent minority of Christians.

The most vivid images he has from childhood are from the beginning of the Gulf War.

“I still remember the night—it was almost 2 a. m. and my family ran away from Baghdad to a place in the north of Iraq to find somewhere to be safe,” recalls Kako. “To add to the horrible war was my father’s face at our lack of food, our being 35 in a place that could only hold 10. I can still hear the airplanes bombing, the shooting, screaming.”

Four years later, he entered the seminary for the diocese of Baghdad, having been influenced by his grandmother.

“I was the 10th in the family and really I feel like my grandmother was a symbol for me, not just for motherhood but for a saint, a prayer,” said Kako.

At 14, he was also a child who had greatly looked up to the pastor of his church, a close friend of the family’s. But after spending four years in seminary, a great deal of reflection led him to choose a different religious path.

“When I was 18, I started raising all these questions and thinking about my vocation, my life, and my commitment to the people of God,” said Kako.

This time his influences were the poor of Iraqi society, his relation to these people, and a realization of how he might be his “best self. ”

“I find my calling to be with the poor and most abandoned of this world,” he said. “This is where I see God: not sitting in heaven but down here, in the face of every person, but more so in the faces of those who are facing difficulty in this world.”

One of his assignments with the Redemptorists was to work with a group of young people in one of the biggest churches in Baghdad.

“Hundreds of families wanted shelter to hide, so everyone came to the church,” he recalls. “They thought, ‘Since the pilot who is bombing us is Christian, he wouldn’t hit the church.’ If we were going to die, we were going to die in the house of God, it was the safest place: to be near God.”

In November of the same year he was sent to Germany to study theology at the University of Wurzburg, where he lived for almost two years. The Redemptorists then sent him to Glenview for his novitiate in 2005. There he was one in a large, multicultural group of novices and professed temporary vows Aug. 27, 2006.

Kako moved from Glenview to Chicago to study for a masters of divinity from Catholic Theological Union, which he will finish in May 2008.

The majority of his family has moved to Australia to escape the persecution of Christians, and he hasn’t seen his parents since he left Iraq.

“I was talking to my mom, and she says that ‘By the pictures, I wouldn’t recognize you on the street, but my heart would tell me, “‘This is my son,’” Kako explains.

Until his mother can see his face again, Kako will work towards helping those whose faces convey the God he lives to serve.