Pope Francis's bishop for Syrian refugees in Canada has family ties to Liberal MP

Canada's resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees prompted Pope Francis to appoint a new bishop to lead Syriac Catholics in Canada. It just so happens the new bishop, Antoine Nassif, is related to Liberal MP Eva Nassif who represents the riding of Vimy in Quebec.

Antoine Nassif will make Laval, Que., his home

Antoine Nassif, left, a new bishop of Lebanese origin, was appointed by Pope Francis to lead Syriac Catholics in Canada. Liberal MP Eva Nassif, right, is a distant cousin of the new bishop who will be based in her riding. (Eva Nassif/Facebook)

The federal government's commitment to fast track the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees caught the attention of Pope Francis who has appointed a new bishop to Canada.

The Vatican announced the appointment of Rev. Antoine Nassif from Lebanon as its first apostolic exarch to lead Syriac Catholics in Canada earlier this year.

The recently ordained bishop happens to be a distant cousin of Liberal MP Eva Nassif, who represents the riding of Vimy in Laval, Que.

Nassif said the new bishop will make it his priority to assist the large number of refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria to find peace in Canada.

Laval was chosen as the new bishop's home because it's one of the communities resettling many of the Syrian refugees and their families, the Liberal MP said in a phone interview with CBC News on Thursday.

Nassif, who was also born in Lebanon, said she didn't know the two were related until a couple of priests from Saint-Éphrem parish in Laval called during an overseas trip to Beirut where they attended the bishop's ordination.

"They called me from Lebanon to tell me that the bishop was trying to reach me," Nassif said.

"He wants to talk to you, he knows you, he knows your family," one of the priests told her, much to her surprise.

The Liberal MP said she met the new bishop for the first time after his arrival to Canada a couple of weeks ago ahead of his inauguration ceremony last week.

Saint-Éphrem church was packed this past Sunday during an official ceremony for the new bishop who was welcomed by his aunt who lives in Canada, the Liberal MP, extended members of her family, and members of other religious communities.

According to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the new exarchate for Canada has seven parishes and missions with a Catholic population of 16,000 served by five priests and two deacons.​

The MP for Vimy made her excitement known by posting some pictures of her and the new bishop on social media.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not attend the inauguration ceremony in Laval but did send the new bishop a message through his MP.

"It is with immense pleasure that I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to Monseigneur Paulos Antoine Nassif on the occasion of his appointment as the Apostolic Exarchate for Syriac Catholics in Canada," Trudeau said in a written statement that was read at the ceremony on Sunday.

Nassif announced the new bishop's appointment during a statement in the House of Commons prior to question period last Thursday.

"Canada's contribution to this humanitarian crisis has not gone unnoticed and I am very pleased to collaborate with Monseigneur Nassif to help the Syrian community in Vimy," Nassif said.

The Liberal MP lives in Laval with her husband and three children who are triplets. The two boys and one girl are 20 years old.

Nassif said she lost her dad and brother in the Lebanese Civil War before she immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. 

Her mother and twin brothers live in Canada, and she has a sister in Lebanon.

Nassif ran in two previous elections before she was elected to Parliament in 2015.


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