By: Robert Ewan
Â Historical Overview
The Chaldeans are a continuation of all the indigenous people of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq); they are amongst the early Christians of the world. They embraced Christianity at the hands of St. Thomas the apostle in his journey to India during the first century. Followed by Mar Addai one of the seventy apostils of the Lord and then followed by his own disciple Mar Mari. The Chaldean Catholic Church was established in 1553 when it was approved by Pope Julius III. He appointed a Patriarch of the Chaldeans and the church is one of the Eighteen Eastern rights recognised by the Holy Sea.
One of the magnificence of the Chaldean Church is the right of the Divine Liturgy that the Chaldean Church until this moment practices and comes from Jesusâ€™ apostils Addai and Mari. It is the most ancient and original Holy liturgy in the entire world from the first century performed in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. The Eucharistic celebration is based, for its instructional segment, on the encounter of the risen lord with the two disciples in their journey to Emmaus.
The vanguard of the Catholic Chaldeans landed on the shores of Britain in the early part of the 20th century. It is assumed that the first Iraqi Catholic Chaldean to live in the UK was Alphonse Mingana. He was invited to England in 1913 by J.Rendel Harris, Director of studies at woodbrook Quaker Study Centre based at selly oak near Birmingham. He stayed at centre for two years where he met his future wife, Emma Sophie Floor, a Norwegian student. They married in 1915 in the same year Mingana was appointed to the staff of John Rylands Library in Manchester. His role was to catalogue the libraryâ€™s impressive collection of Arabic and Syriac Manuscriptâ€™s he resided in Manchester and taught Arabic at its University till 1932 were he had two children, John and Marie.
The Chaldean Patriarch Immanuel visited Britain in 1920 to reveal to the authorities the damages that befell on the Christians in Iraq and Turkey as the consequences of First World War and the atrocities that were committed against them. Patriarch Yousuf Ghanima VII also visited Britain in 1950 to meet the small community that existed.
It is believed that over one hundred families settled in United Kingdom during the 1970â€™s. Most of them were academics or in businesses preferring to live in the UK. Then the number gradually increased due to the pernicious Iran-Iraq war in the eighties.
Without a priest of their own/many of the Chaldeans in UK attended Roman Catholic churches for weddings and special events such as baptisim,Funerals they often attended their local parishes. With the Chaldean community growing rapidly in UK Patriarch Paulous Sheikho appointed Father Phillipe Najim in 1986 as the Missionâ€™s pastor. Mass was held at St. Anneâ€˜s R. C. Church in London (near Laxton Place). The communityâ€™s appetency for practising their faith and solidarity continued unabated. There were several fund raising activities which resulted in purchasing the Missionâ€™s current residency in West Ealing. Father Andraous Abbouna was appointed by his beatitude Raphael I Bidawid in 1991 as the new Mission Pastor to serve the Chaldean and Syriac Catholics of Iraq. Father Andraous was later ordained a Bishop by Pope John Paul II in Rome. Subsequently, he was appointed to the post of assistant Patriarch to Immanuel Dally III based in Baghdad.
Fr Habib Jajou was appointed by his beatitude Raphael I Bidawid in 2003 to take over the Mission. He and the Service Committees continued to carry the torch of progress for the community.
Father Habib Jajou was born in the village of Baqofa, Northern Iraq in 1960. He was one of eight children. Whilst a teenager he felt the call to priesthood running within his veins. He is a Geology graduate from Mousel University in 1982. During the eighties the dreaded Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) was ragging with its bloodbath descending on all Iraqis.
Father Habib served in the frontline, in trenches with Christian and Muslim Iraqi soldiers. He says “I prayed the rosary all day, listening to cassettes and reading in the Bible and spiritual books giving me strength and courage. The Muslim soldiers were also praying. We were brothers in armsâ€. He was discharged from the army in 1991. As in his teenage years, he felt the call for priesthood once again but this time was free from the army and able to answer the call. He joined and graduated from Babel Pontifical College in Baghdad and was ordained priest in 1998. He was appointed pastor of St. George Chaldean church in al- Ghadeer District (South East of Baghdad).
With the continuous increase of parishioners were the majority of them living in west London the congregation moved its place of worship to the Holly Family Catholic Church in Acton (Vale Lane, W3 0DY) in August 2004. Currently the mission numbers about three thousand parishioners. Approximately 400 families reside in and around London and about 250 families reside outside London with the main concentration in Surrey and Cardiff.
The mission Today
The Mission continues in its progress and growth. Currently there are four main committees that run the missions affairs. There are sixteen committee members and over seventy active helpers for the mission.
The Pastoral committee organised talks, parties, picnics, trips and luncheons and leads the way in improving the social life of the mission. The members look after the elderly, sick, and new refugees. They work with the groups of the other Eastern churches in London. The family gathering day proved to be extremely popular as it truly created a fraternal way of gathering.
The Liturgy committee plans liturgies for Christmas, Easter and all other occasions. The liturgical activities include organising masses, baptism, engagement, and marriage preparation. There are approximately 20 baptisms per year, 10 weddings per year and four deaths. The Choir group has been established over 15 years and it leads the singing at the 12:30 mass on Sunday and on festive days.
The cultural/education committee is committed in improving the Christian teaching level. The prayer and Bible study group meets with the Parish Pastor in the parishioners home to study the Bible and pray together in order to develop their faith and understanding the word of God. The missionâ€™s Cultural activities are considered the strongest with several publications notably Al- Qeethara (the Harp) a monthly religious and cultural magazine in Arabic and English (101 issues). Mesopotamia, an English newsletter published once every two months (19 issues), with a further 13 different publications. Additionally the mission completed production over 2300 CDs on audio visual of prayers and hymns both in English and Arabic. Finally, the Mission has a very informative Website that is updated on weekly basis.
The Finance Committee is responsible for all the mission’s finances and strives to find new ways to finance and support the mission.
The Mission also offers charity helps, educate and train its members and support poor families. Additionally, the parish strives to increase the closeness of the community. The Missionâ€™s activities continue to expand without abating thanks to the enthusiasm of the helpers who enjoy contributing to its success.
Father Habib says:â€The Chaldeans in the UK or as part of the Diaspora remain a vibrant and productive people contributing to the greater society at large while still maintain their language, customs and their cherished religious beliefsâ€.
As Iraq loses all semblance of order, the carefully calibrated repressions and attacks against Christians have risen in Iraq. Many churches have been bombed, looted and vandalized forcing many Christians of all denominations to flee to its neighboring countries the community feels the anguish of their relatives and loved ones in Iraq.
Father Habib says:â€Our ultimate aim is to secure a place of worship that truly belongs to the community. We are looking to buy our own place of worship such as a church or hall in London to help us carry our purposes towards our peopleâ€. He adds:â€This is the least of our worries as we thing of all those Christians in Iraq. They are in our thoughts and prayers every day so that they overcome their difficulties and the suffering they are enduringâ€.
To find out more about the Chaldean Mission:
Chaldean Catholic Mission, 38 Cavendish Avenue,
Ealing, London W13 0JQ, tel/fax: 0208 997 6370 mission website: www.chaldean.org.uk