He would not return to Iraq, he said. "In my opinion, it won't be safe in the near future. It needs a long time to be safe again. So that Christians can go back and live there again."
About life in Lebanon, "what can I say?" he said. "We are going through some bad circumstances here because the living is really expensive." He added: "We're waiting to travel to one of the hosting countries, like Australia, Canada, the U.S."
A 15-year-old boy named Issa said the same thing. His eyes lit up and he smiled as he explained that "soon," he and his family would be moving to Canada, to rejoin two of his four sisters who were recently granted visas to enter the country.
The disappointment showed in his face as he shared that he had hoped to be celebrating Christmas in Canada this year, not in Lebanon, where he has lived with his parents and five siblings since he was a small child. "But it's ok," he said reassuringly, as he looked away.
Every single one of the refugees is waiting to leave and to go to Canada, Australia, or the United States, the director of the center, Raphael, told CNA. Visa applications are not something the center helps the Iraqi refugees with directly, but they provide legal support if needed.
Funded by aid given through the Chaldean Diocese in Beirut, the center runs programs to help refugees with rent and medical expenses, leads catechism lessons for children, and offers classes in things like English and IT for adults. The diocese also recently built a new school for over 100 children, overseen by 12 teachers who are also members of the community.
"We try to give them hope in the first place," Raphael said. "It's to feel like a family. I'm not just a director, I have this paternal figure [for them]."
Raphael, who is half Iraqi and half Lebanese, works one day a week as a sociology professor at a local university. But the other days he devotes himself completely to the community as a volunteer full-time director.
His dedication to the community is personal, he said. "I feel that these people who are displaced, they need more love than anything else. It's not only relief work, it's more giving love, giving tenderness to people that are really in bad conditions [spiritually], before being in bad conditions materially."
"It's small things that can make changes," he noted, pointing to the evening's Christmas concert as an example. It is about helping them to feel at home, not "displaced or abandoned," he said.
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"Activities like this one make them feel that they are doing something for the community. Especially the young ones that are going to sing today."
The evening's performance, of well over an hour, included songs in Arabic and Chaldean. At one particularly beautiful moment, the choir was silent, while Fr. Raphael Traboulsi, vicar general of the diocese, sang a portion of the Gospel of Matthew in Aramaic.
"Christmas," Yonan said, "is a time of rethinking, rethinking about what God did for us. We were apart from God because of original sin. God wanted to bring us back. That's why he sent his son Jesus to save us and bring us back home."
"And," he added, "it's a time for party and entertainment, because it's a happy time."