Assyrian Church welcomes Patriarch Mar Dinkha

doc4c3a634cb000e4565209581.jpgBy Susan Corica
Staff Writer
NEW BRITAIN — The Assyrian Church of the East has survived from the dawn of Christianity in the Middle East to take root in New Britain.

Over the weekend, St. Thomas Assyrian Church played host to the worldwide leader of the ancient church.

His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos Patriarch of the church, attended a dinner in his honor in the church ballroom on McClintock Street on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, he celebrated Mass at the church on Cabot Street and had breakfast with the congregation.

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Rob Heyl | Mar Dinkha IV, Patriarch of the Holy Catholic Assyrian Church of the East at St. Thomas Assyrian Church in New Britain Sunday.

Deacon Sharbel Isaac, who accompanied the patriarch here from Chicago, said the purpose of the visit was to check on the congregation here.

There are no residing bishops on the East Coast or in the Midwest so His Holiness has take care of this area himself, and after here he is going to Yonkers, Isaac said.

The church is also known as the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. “That’s ‘Catholic,’ not as in Roman Catholic but as in ‘universal,’” explained Isaac.

The Assyrians are the indigenous people of Iraq and surrounding areas. Their church is independent of the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Christian churches.

During World War I, many Assyrians were driven away by genocidal attacks by the Ottoman Empire. Since then, they have settled all over the world.

New Britain is a center for the Assyrian Church here, along with Yonkers, N.Y., Chicago, and Phoenix. There are also Assyrian churches in Canada, Russia, Europe, India, Australia, New Zealand, and various countries in the Middle East, Isaac said.

His Holiness Dinkha was named the 120th patriarch of the church in 1976.

Now age 75, he is currently based in Morton Grove, Ill, a suburb of Chicago, because is native Iraq has become too hostile an environment for the church.

“As we speak, there is a patriarchal residence being built for him in northern Iraq,” explained Isaac. “The plan isn’t for him to move to Iraq completely, but His Holiness does do annual trips back home to check up on the people there.”

“For him to permanently live there, I don’t think it’s safe. Our people don’t think its safe, due to what happens to Christians there,” he said.

“His Holiness visited us in New Britain last year. He tries to come here like every year or two, but he’s covering so much territory, the whole world,” explained Mary Ann Desena of Newington, member of the church board.

“Our congregation is very small now. We had about 150 to 200 in church for him. It’s a small community, but they wanted to see him,” she said.

The patriarch was escorted in New Britain by Core-Bishop George Aaron and the Rev. James Crowley, both parish priests at St. Thomas.

Also accompanying the patriarch were Deacon Robert Baba of New Britain, Sub Deacon Edwin Hormoz of Bristol, and Baba Sargizian of New Britain, president of the St. Thomas executive committee.

Two other deacons, brothers Mishel and Thoma Khamounejhad of New Britain, helped to lead the Mass, which is mostly chanted and sung