Three thousand Iraqi Christians have been received into the Chaldean Catholic Church in California, with up to 300 in Britain also joining an “exodus” into the Catholic Church.
The congregation of the Assyrian Church of the East were reconciled with Rome after Bishop Mar Bawai Soro was suspended by its Synod.
The bishop served as the Church of the East’s Bishop for California and was also the Secretary-General of his Church’s Inter-Church Relations and Education Development. However the hierarchy were unhappy with his ecumenical position and attempts to bring the church closer to the Vatican.
In November 2005 the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East (ACE) issued an official letter to Bishop Soro informing him of his expulsion.
The man described by Fr Robert Taft as a “zealous and brilliant religious leader of his people” has felt that, in this time of intense religious persecution in Iraq, the church’s traditional isolation from the rest of Christendom was counter-productive.
The Chaldean Catholic Church, which descends from the Church of the East, has been in full communion with Rome since 1551 when Mar Yohanan Sulaqa met with Pope Julius III. Its patriarch, Emmanuel III Delly, was elevated to the role of cardinal last October.
Bishop Soro said: “Myself and the followers of our movement understand our present efforts of unity to be in the same spirit and motivation that continue the work started by Archbishop Timothy and Patriarch Sulaqa.
“People really desire some sort of hope in the wake of the tragic situation in Iraq. I directed a number of ecumenical dialogues over 20 years, especially with the Holy See, but the Assyrian church withdrew, because they did not want to become accountable.
According to our theological tradition Rome has a great place in the heart of the Assyrian church. We are the only apostolic church not in communion with any other church. But thank God our people did not stay still, but gradually clustered around me. After two years and a campaign of defamation and a legal battle, we were able to organise a union with the Chaldean Church.”
Thanks to the Chaldean Bishop Mar Sarhad Jammo the community were able to purchase a church in Ceres, California, which was consecrated on Pentecost Sunday.
And already between 200 and 300 members of the Assyrian Church within Britain’s 5,000-strong Chaldo-Assyrian community have crossed the Tiber. As well as the ecumenical issue, many accuse the Assyrian church of being linked to the Kurdish Democratic Party, which aspires to an independent Kurdistan that includes the Assyrian Ninevah Plains.
Albert Michael, a British-Assyrian, said Bishop Soro “stood up for the truth”.
He said: “For centuries all they [the Assyrian Church] have done is control the Assyrian people. They were shocked that one of their own has stood up to them. He is truly a man of God, and for this reason thousands of Assyrians worldwide have left ACE and joined the Chaldean Catholic Church of the East or the Ancient Church of the East (Old Calendar).
“It already is an exodus. In the UK, I for one was a member of the ACE but now I want nothing to do with these people. I’m not against the church, I’m against these corrupt clergy. This movement will keep growing because we know the truth is on our side. We’re in the Catholic Church now – you’ll need to make room for us.”
Bishop Soro said: “This unity movement is crucial for the future of Iraqi Christians because it can serve as a catalyst for a wider and more comprehensive unity… a successful unity movement will inspire hope in the hearts of people and as such the results of real hope can effect the survival and livelihood of Christianity in Iraq.”
– Catholic Herald