In a loving display of consolation and charity to a beleaguered people, the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas the Apostle for the Chaldean in Detroit celebrated a thanksgiving Mass with Iraqi Catholic Christians at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville this weekend. According to Bishop Ibrahim, half of the 1 million prewar Christians in Iraq have fled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
NASHVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - In a loving display of consolation and charity to a beleaguered people, the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas the Apostle for the Chaldean in Detroit celebrated a thanksgiving Mass with Iraqi Catholic Christians at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville, TN this past weekend. Presiding Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim of St. Thomas the Apostle is head of the Chaldean Christians in the Eastern US.
His presence lent an air of poignant familiarity to the Mass for about 120 displaced Chaldean Christian families worshiping there, about half of which had newly arrived in Knoxville from Iraq. Differences in the liturgy, liturgical language, prayers, and devotions between the Eastern and Western Rites add to feelings of displacement and alienation from home and culture for the refugees.
Along with an additional 17 dioceses and bishops of the Eastern Rite in the US, all of which maintain full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the rest of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy is in use among Chaldean Catholics. Having a Chaldean Bishop celebratethe Divine Liturgy (Mass) in the Eastern Rite is a distinct reminder of home for the worshipers, who were greeted with "Allah maak" ("the Lord be with you").
Prayers at the liturgy came from the Mass for Refugees and Exiles. The second reading from James 1 concluded with verse 27: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world."
The homilist said, "When we use terms like 'refugees' and 'exiles,' there's always a caution. 'Widows and orphans' in the Old Testament and in the New Testament were words always used together, and it didn't just mean 'widows and orphans.' It meant anyone who was vulnerable, anyone who was in need, and the people of God were always judged by God on their faithfulness to taking care of those in need."
A guest this weekend of the Bishop of Knoxville, Bishop Ibrahim also met following the Mass with members of the Chaldean community, members of the charity Iraqi Christians in Need, and Congressman John Duncan to share a fellowship meal and discuss the issues facing the Iraqi Catholic community in America.
For the members of Iraqi Christians in Need, the day with the refugees and Bishop Ibrahim served to launch the newly formed organization which seeks to educate Americans on the numbers and plight of Iraqi Christian refugees living here and offer assistance to them.
Bishop Ibrahim hopes to work with Tennessee Bishops and Iraqi Christians in Need to establish a mission for the Chaldean community there, and all over the country, especially those who have recently fled persecution in Iraq. Together they hope to offer a place of refuge where Iraqi Christians can gather safely to "worship and pray for peace and understanding in the world, so that all peoples may practice their faith in peace and security."
When asked what he considered to be the most important message to Catholic Online readers, Bishop Ibrahim stated, "All Iraqis are not Muslim. Before Islam was there [in Iraq], Christians were there." Indeed, Christianity predates Islam by several centuries.
Iraqi Christians are part of historic indigenous communities that have been in the area now known as Iraq since nearly the time of Christ, and the majority still live there. The Christian community took root in the region after the Apostle Thomas headed east in the year 35, the Apostle for whom the Chaldean Diocese in Detroit is named.
But now after nearly 2,000 years, Iraqi Christians are being hunted, murdered and forced to flee - persecuted on a biblical scale in Iraq's religious civil war. These brothers and sisters in Christ who can trace their history in the region back some 2,000 years have fled to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and to northern Iraq by the hundreds of thousands to avoid certain martyrdom.
The invasion and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that removed Saddam Hussein have created political instability and an authority vacuum that has allowed a jihadist and supremacist power insurgence to prey on Christians in their midst with increasing brutality and boldness. Rampant tribal disunity prevents unification under an Islamic government that cannot and does not protect Christians there despite the official rhetoric of freedom of religious practice.
According to Bishop Ibrahim, half of the 1 million prewar Christians in Iraq have fled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Hundreds of thousands, including children and babies of Christian parents, have been horrifically tortured and martyred. Nonetheless, the charity of Christ was evident in Bishop Ibrahim as he carefully pointed out that while Iraqi Christians are particularly targeted, the whole population of Iraq, Muslim and Christian, suffers due to the political destabilization.
Comparing the current persecution of Christians in Iraq to German persecution of Jews in the 40's, he stated that Iraqi Christians are in such dire need because they receive no official help from the US to relocate and assimilate as the Jews did then. Instead, President Obama's support of Islamic nations emboldens militant religious resurgence and jihadist attacks against them while their pleas for protection fall on deaf ears.
They are desperate for the most basic help. Twenty other Chaldean families wanted to attend the Mass in Knoxville this weekend but were unable to find transportation. Susan Dakak of Iraqi Christians in Need said that this is one of the issues they hoped the day would highlight.
"People need to know about these Catholic refugees and see if there's any way they can help them," she said. "It's the occasional ride to church or invitation to dinner or whatever would make them feel at home-that's what we're hoping for these families."
To be the hands and feet of Christ to Iraqi Christians in need, contact the ministry here.
Sonja Corbitt is a Catholic speaker, Scripture teacher and study author, and a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit her at www.pursuingthesummit.com.
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