At the most, it would be an ordinary, one-hour interview. At least that’s what I thought when I sat down to meet with Msgr. Felix Shabi to write about the two Chaldean Catholic congregations he leads in the Valley.
“Our Church is a Church of martyrs,” he told me. For centuries, the Chaldeans have suffered relentless persecution that continues to this very moment, when murderous thugs hunt down Christians in Iraq in an effort to eliminate them from the face of the earth.
As Msgr. Shabi poured out the history of his people, I could think of only one thing — this is a story that must be conveyed to those of us in the West. And we ourselves must do something to help.
The Chaldeans have always suffered because of their love for Christ and His Church. Martyrdom is not some ancient concept for them — it’s everyday life for these descendants of the Magi. Theirs is a story that remains largely hidden.
Here in America, some of us drag our feet to church on Sunday, doze through the homily and leave Mass right after Communion so we can get home and watch “The Big Game.”
But for Iraqi Catholics, it is not so. They risk their lives simply by being known as followers of Jesus Christ. They are regularly harassed, kidnapped and murdered on account of their faith. Attendance at Mass may cost them their lives, just as it did dozens of faithful at Baghdad’s cathedral Oct. 31.
Many of those who have survived such horrors now live among us. Arizona, California and Michigan are home to thousands of refugees from Iraq.
We have much to learn from these people — much more than we could ever give them. One Iraqi immigrant who arrived in this country 30 years ago made this wise observation about our society’s lack of perspective: “Americans eat honey all the time,” he told me. “They do not know anymore what sweetness is.”
Our freedom to worship God as we please, our freedom from religious persecution — these are things we take for granted. The beds we sleep in, the tables at which we enjoy our meals — these are things that we have come to expect as our birthright.
Msgr. Shabi has a committee at his parish that is working with the refugees, but they need help. Furniture is a pressing need, especially beds, tables, chairs and couches. So is cash. The latest refugees don’t speak English. They don’t have cars. They rely on the good deeds of others to transport them to church, to show them the way.
And oftentimes, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Evangelicals are the ones who show up to help, eager to convert the descendants of martyrs to their own denomination.
We cannot ignore these Chaldean brothers and sisters of ours who have suffered so much for the Gospel. It is our duty and our privilege to reach out them in solidarity.
Is your home crowded with furniture you’re not using? Is there something you might sacrifice for those who have sacrificed so much for our faith?
There’s something else that needs attention too: Our government has a duty to protect those who have not or cannot leave Iraq. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago made that clear in a letter he wrote recently to President Barack Obama. “Having invaded Iraq,” he wrote, “our nation has a moral obligation not to abandon Iraqis who cannot defend themselves.” This silence in the face of religious persecution must end.
Perhaps as we recall the gifts of the Magi for the Christ Child, we can search our hearts and our wallets and find a gift we can offer our Chaldean neighbors. While we’re at it, we need to thank the Lord for our freedom. Sometimes we only come to appreciate its value when we meet those who have been deprived of it. ✴
To donate furniture or make a financial contribution to local Chaldean Catholics, call (480) 596-9067.
Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.