Refugee priest brings message of peace to St. Hilda’s

For the interim priest at St. Hilda’s Anglican Church in Sechelt, appreciation for community runs deep.

Rev. Ayoob Adwar has been presiding over St. Hilda’s for the past six months as the parish searches for a permanent replacement for Rev. Clarence Li, who stepped down in the summer of 2019 after serving as rector for approximately a decade.

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Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Adwar practised as a priest in the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul until he immigrated to Canada as a refugee in 2014.

At nearly 2,000 years old, and believed to be founded by the Apostle St. Thomas, Chaldean Catholicism is one of the oldest Christian denominations in the world. Adwar, like most of its practitioners, speaks the ancient Semitic language Aramaic – and thanks to his studies abroad, Italian as well as English. He also speaks Arabic.

The number of Chaldeans living in Iraq has plummeted since the early 2000s, due to continuing civil conflict.

As freedoms grew increasingly restricted in Iraq, where insurgents persecuted religious minorities, Adwar’s religious affiliation risked his personal safety. “It was a hard, terrible experience over there when we lost our churches, parishes, people, land, culture and ancient history,” Adwar said.

While living in Mosul, Adwar had “no idea about the Anglican church,” but during his travels in Italy and the U.K., where he completed his master’s degree in social pedagogy, he began to learn about the denomination.

Three years after settling in Canada, Adwar became the first Chaldean priest in history to transition to the Anglican faith and take the cloth. “I didn’t just change my homeland, I changed my home church,” Adwar told Coast Reporter. His decision to change denominations was a calling from God, he said. 

Adwar belongs to the New Westminster Diocese, of which St. Hilda’s is a part, and has worked at parishes in Vancouver. He was interim priest at St. Timothy’s in Burnaby before arriving on the Sunshine Coast.

Six months into his short-term position, Adwar said he remains “excited” by the role, as the congregation plans for the future.

St. Hilda’s is at the tail end of an ambitious, multi-year fundraising campaign to afford extensive renovations. While construction was underway, other spaces on-site were used to host various activities – from Indigenous drumming circles to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. With the renovation complete, the congregation is re-establishing itself as a spiritual, cultural and social hub in the community, as it searches for a permanent rector.

“This time is about self-reflection for the community,” Adwar said.

As an interim priest, Adwar is not involved in the search for a permanent replacement. Instead he is there to make space for that reflection, as he preaches his principles of shlama – meaning peace in Aramaic – and inclusion.

“I share my prayers for peace throughout this world, for peace among all people. May all faiths respect each other and live in peace and love.”

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