Iraq’s Chaldean Catholics fleeing physical danger in their homeland often find themselves unprepared for the moral threats awaiting them in the United States, said the head of Chaldean Catholics in the western United States. Because of a lack of respect for the unborn in the United States, along with different understandings of marriage and a general disregard for Christian values, Chaldean families often find themselves in a world they are not accustomed to, said Bishop Sarhad Y. Jammo, of San Diego, of the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle. Chaldean Catholics are the largest Eastern-rite community in the United States. Their numbers are growing because of a large and steady stream of refugees since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“This is the irony; that is the dilemma,” Bishop Jammo said. They escape from gunfire in Iraq and go to the United States to find physical security, “but then they face moral attack,” he said. The bishop spoke from Rome on May 17 during an ad limina visit to the Vatican with other heads of Eastern Catholic dioceses in the United States.
Chaldean Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim, who heads the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit, the diocese for Chaldean Catholics in the Eastern United States, said the biggest challenge in his diocese is how to help families who have been unable to go to church for years. Many of the refugees spent five to 10 years in a transit country such as Lebanon, Jordan or Syria before they found a home in the United States. The bishops’ aim is to make them feel at home “after those years of suffering” and to help them become acclimated to their new surroundings and reignite their faith.
Many refugees have “become confused” during their hiatus abroad, either losing their faith because they had little to no access to a priest and pastoral care or because they found solace in a Protestant community, he said.
“However, when they arrive in the States, we get them back,” he said, when they discover the large, vibrant Chaldean Catholic community. “They want to be with their own citizens, their own people, family and friends” and hear their own language. Bishop Ibrahim estimates there are more than 180,000 Chaldean Catholics in his eparchy alone.
For both bishops, funding new parishes and pastoral programs for their growing number of parishioners is an enormous challenge. Despite generous help from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Jammo said the economic investment needed to fund Bible study programs, youth groups, catechisms and provide for seminarians, priests, nuns and teachers is “overwhelming.” Many Chaldeans arrive in the United States with appropriate skills and education and a desire to work, but there are no jobs, he said. Hence, he added, many are not only unable to support the parish and its work; they need financial and social assistance from the church.
“I am racing against time because I don’t want to lose even one soul,” he said.