INTERVIEW: US Chaldeans Find Hope in Pope Visit to Iraq

Exaudi Interview with Martin Manna, President, Chaldean Community Foundation

chaldeans pope iraq
Pope Francis will celebrate Mass on March 6 in Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Baghdad - Exaudi Photo

The Visit by Pope Francis to Iraq has filled Chaldeans in the United States with hope. The March 5-8 apostolic journey of the Holy Father is the first visit of a Pope to Iraq, a nation that has faced decades of war, a nation where Christians, including the Chaldean community, have suffered.

Many Chaldean Christians have fled Iraq. in fact, the largest Chaldean Christian population in the world now resides in the United States. For this community, the Pope’s visit is something to watch closely – and pray for.

To get a sense of how the Chaldean community in the US is viewing the Pope’s trip, Exaudi’s US correspondent, Jim Fair, spoke with Martin Manna, President, Chaldean Community Foundation. Founded in 2006 as the nonprofit arm of the Michigan-based Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, the Chaldean Community Foundation has been rooted in our Chaldean cultural heritage, serving the newcomer Iraq-Chaldean and immigrant communities.

Following are Manna’s responses to Exaudi’s questions:

chaldeans pope iraq
Martin Manna, President, Chaldean Community Foundation

Exaudi: Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphaël Sako and others have said that the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq offers hope to the Church in that country. Does it also offer hope to Chaldeans in North America?

Iraq has become a great prison for the minorities and the faithful of its original people. Demographic changes are aggressively underway and in full swing to obliterate the pluralistic and cultural identity of Iraq. Many feel great sadness, but are still clinging to the thin threads of hope, without which half of humanity would have ended. Our faith is what guides us and we are praying there are better days ahead for Iraq. We are grateful the Pope has made the pilgrimage and pray it will bring dialogue and reconciliation to the country.

Exaudi: How many of the members of the Church in this country have relatives and friends in Iraq?

The Chaldean community numbers more than 500,000 in the United States, which is now larger than the community in Iraq. The overwhelming majority still have relatives and friends in Iraq.

Exaudi: Do they have regular contact?

We care deeply about the community in Iraq and communicate directly to our religious and political leaders on a daily basis and families stay in close contact with their loved ones.

Exaudi: How many have come to the country from Iraq?

Metro-Detroit is the largest Chaldean community outside of Iraq, with more than 160,000 living in the metro-Detroit area. The largest influx was in the late 1960s when the Baath party came into power. There’s been additional migration since the first gulf war and subsequently, the US-led invasion in 2003 when more than 60,000 emigrated to the U.S. There are currently 300,000 members of the community still displaced and in search of migration to a host country.

Exaudi: Are you doing anything to support the Church in Iraq?

Our community works hand-in-hand with our Church in Iraq. The Chaldean Diocese here in Detroit established and has sent more than $7 million in aid to assist displaced refugees (Christian and non-Christian) in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and Syria. There are several non-profit organizations such as the Shlama Foundation and others that provide support services and programs to the community in Nineveh.

Exaudi: How are you be following the Pope’s visit?

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch will provide social media updates on the visit and the local Chaldean News (owned by the Chaldean Community Foundation) has reporters in Iraq that are providing updates on the visit to the community.

Exaudi: Do some of your members want to return to Iraq?

Many members of the community visit Iraq often. The Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce has a working relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi officials and participates in a yearly economic development mission to the region every year. The community also supports many initiatives in the Christian villages in Nineveh.

Exaudi: What are the biggest challenges facing members of your Church in Iraq?

The biggest challenges continue to be security, security, and security. The community is also dealing with ongoing intimidation, harassment, and religious discrimination. Please see attached for a comprehensive list of challenges and proposed solutions.

Exaudi: What are the biggest challenges facing your members here?

When the community is given religious and economic freedom, they excel. We are a community of entrepreneurs and grateful to be living in the greatest country in the world. I thank God every day for giving us the opportunity to live here and appreciate the sacrifice my parents made in leaving Iraq. The community in Detroit alone contributes more than $11 billion annually to the economy in the state of Michigan.

Exaudi: How has your faith sustained you during these difficult times? The Chaldean Catholic Church is often referred to as the “Church of Martyrs” and many in our community have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their love of Christ. Their courage has helped strengthen our faith and put our trust and love in GOD.

Background on the Chaldean Church

The Chaldean Catholic Church is descendant from the Church of the East, an Ancient Church located in Mesopotamia that can trace her roots to Mar Addai (St. Addai) and Mar Mari (St. Mari), disciples of St. Thomas the Apostle. Today, four churches claim patrimony from the Church of the East: The Chaldean Catholic Church, The Assyrian Church of the East, The Ancient Assyrian Church of the East, and The Syro-Malabar Church.

The Catholic Church is composed of various Rites, both Western and Eastern Rites. There are 23 Eastern Rites, of these the Chaldean Catholic Church is one of them. To be an Eastern Rite means that the Church retains her identity and tradition, liturgical, spiritual, etc., but has full communion with the Pope of Rome.

The Patriarchate of the Chaldean Catholic Church currently resides in Baghdad, Iraq, with Eparchies (Dioceses) around the world. The largest population of Chaldean Catholics found outside the Middle East is located in Michigan, U.S.A. The cathedral parish St. Thomas the Apostle Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of the U.S.A. is Mother of God Cathedral, located in Southfield, Michigan.