THE IRAQI CATHOLIC COMMUNITY AND THE CHALDEAN CATHOLIC RITE
Last week in my Pastor’s Note I presented some of the photographs Fr. Desiré Salako had given me of his mission work in Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries which has an impoverished Catholic population of 2.5% and which has suffered massive communal violence from Muslim fanaticism.
In the work that Father Salako and his missionaries are doing in Africa they are part of some of the newest churches of the Catholic Faith in the world today. The evangelization of most of the continent of Africa dates back to the extraordinary mission work that was done in the late 1800s to the first half of the 1900s by the European missionary congregations. Now there is an abundant native African clergy. They in turn are continuing to spread the Gospel. In the many of the places where Fr. Salako and the S.M.A Fathers go it is where the Church is in its most basic state: the state of “primary evangelization.” Fr. Salako’s work among us during his summer visits is helping to make us vividly aware of this.
If Fr. Salako represents the newest churches of the Faith, our Iraqi Catholic Community here at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes brings the heritage of one of the oldest churches of the Faith. The Catholic Faith beyond the eastern frontier of the ancient Roman Empire received the Gospel from several of the original Twelve Apostles, in particular St. Thomas. According to legend it was St. Thomas who instructed the (then very old) Magi Kings and baptized them.
The Catholic Faith flourished in Mesopotamia and Persia. Due to the political rivalries between the Roman and Persian Empires communication between the eastern Christian churches and Rome was complicated. In the course of the 5th Century A.D. many of these churches drifted into Nestorianism (a christological heresy of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, died A.D. 451, who denied the unity of Christ’s Person but posited that Christ’s human nature was a single, independently existing nature—thus only the human Jesus was born of Mary, only the human Jesus died on the Cross. Nestorius refused the title of Mary as “Mother of God”).
The Arab conquests of the 7th-8th centuries A.D. brought with them the new religion of Islam. Over the centuries the Christian population in Mesopotamia and Persia (modern -day Iraq and Iran) diminished but the core of the native Christian civilization proved resilient. Contact between Rome and these Apostolic Churches occurred during the Crusades and the Middle Ages. In the later part of the 16th Century, at the time of the Council of Trent, formal re-union was established between Rome and many Christians in Mesopotamia and Persia who renounced the Nestorian heresy. Our Iraqi Catholics with whom we are sharing our church of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes are the descendants of this re-unification.
For the last century, beginning with the calamitous events of World War I, the Chaldean Catholics have suffered devastating blows to their traditional communities. The genocidal war against them by ISIS, destroying the network of Christian communities on the Ninevah Plain in 2014, seems to have put an end to an ancient Christian way of life.
The dispersed Iraqi Catholics who have found refuge in the United States are naturally trying to preserve their religious traditions by re-building church communities.
The former Syriac-rite Mission of Our Lady of Mesopotamia is now under the care of the Chaldean Eparchy of Detroit and the Eastern United States. They will receive their second visit from their new chaplain Fr. Hermiz Haddad next Saturday, July 29th (as the notice below shows).
Consider what a blessing it is for our parish church to have the Chaldean-rite Mass celebrated here: what a sign both of the unity and the durability of the Catholic Church, and of the actuality of Christ’s promise: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16).
The elevated and extravagant tone of the prayers of the Chaldean-rite liturgy ought not to be separated from the awareness of what the faithful remnant of Christians in that part of the world has endured. For example, this Antiphon:
Before the magnificent throne of Your glory, O Lord, the exalted and sublime seat of Your majesty, the revered beam of Your intense love, the absolving altar which You have erected, and the place in which Your glory dwells; we, Your people and the sheep of Your flock, along with the innumerable cherubim that praise You, and the multitude of seraphim and archangels that glorify You; we kneel, adore, confess, and glorify You at all times, O Lord of all: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, forever. Amen.