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Though Chaldeans began to emigrate from Iraq in the 1970’s, more than 147,000 Chaldeans have left since the conclusion of the first Gulf War in 1991. Crippled by the imposition of an economic embargo by the United Nations and now a vigorous insurgency following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, many Chaldeans have found refuge in nearby Jordan, Lebanon and Syria (other Christians have also left).

Today the largest concentration of Chaldeans, led by Patriarch Emmanuel III, remains in Baghdad (approximately 140,000 people). There are 9 additional eparchies in Iraq, numbering some 100,000 Chaldeans, 4 eparchies in Iran and 4 in the rest of the Middle East.

Some 125,000 Chaldeans – most of them of Iraqi descent – have settled in the United States, more than half in the last dozen years or so. Two eparchies, St. Thomas of the Chaldeans in Detroit and St. Peter the Apostle of the Chaldeans in San Diego, have been established to care for them. And while some U.S. Chaldeans eagerly keep abreast of developments back home, even voting in the recent elections, most intend to stay.

Ecumenical advances. There is some good news to report. Relations between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East have improved dramatically since a Common Christological Declaration was signed by the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, and Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in November 1994.

Meeting in Southfield, Michigan, in 1996, Mar Dinkha and his Chaldean counterpart at the time, Patriarch Raphael I, pledged to assist one another in addressing pastoral concerns, such as the drafting of a common catechism, the erection of a joint seminary for the formation of priests and the preservation of Aramaic – all in an effort to re-establish the unity of the Chaldean-Assyrian Church.

A year later, in Roselle, Illinois, the synods of both churches accepted each other’s diversities as legitimate and recognized the validity of one another’s orders and sacraments. Under consideration are plans to work toward reintegration of the two churches that will respect the Assyrians’ desire to retain autonomy while affirming full communion with the Church of Rome.

Chaldeans and Assyrians know that, in an increasingly homogenized world, only by working together and sharing resources will the rich legacy of Christian Mesopotamia prosper.

“At the dawn of a new millennium we have to realize that having established two jurisdictions within the frame of the legacy of the Church of the East has led gradually to the formation of two distinct communities,” writes Mar Sarhad Jammo, Chaldean Bishop of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego.

“Therefore,” the bishop continues, “to restore this church to its primordial unity and to bring its Chaldean and Assyrian people to share, in a united nation, the same heritage and walk together toward a common destiny will require [us] to deal not only with theological and ecclesiastical matters, but with cultural and social issues as well.

“That is the challenge of our generation.”

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Michael J.L. La Civita is Executive Editor of ONE magazine.

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Tags: Iraq Chaldean Church Church history