From Baghdad to Phoenix: Iraqi Christians settling in the southwest

060111-east-west-2751.jpgby Deacon Greg Kandra
1retweetShare Bridging the divide between East and West is a big part of the mission of CNEWA, where I work. So when a colleague posted this on his Facebook page, I found it both newsworthy and noteworthy.

When it comes to the plight of Eastern Christians, attention must be paid.

From the Catholic Sun in Phoenix:

As more and more refugees from Iraq are relocated to Arizona, Msgr. Felix Shabi has a happy problem: his community of Chaldean Catholics continues to grow steadily.

About 600 families belong to Mar Abraham Parish in Scottsdale and Holy Family Mission in Phoenix. Msgr. Shabi said many others live in the East Valley and Tucson.

Last November, after a brutal attack on the Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad left 58 dead, local Roman Catholics began reaching out to their Eastern-rite brothers and sisters here in the Valley.

That’s something Fr. Mike Straley wholeheartedly supports. As a longtime member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, an organization that supports Christians in the Holy Land, he understands the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

“The Diocese of Phoenix is getting big enough to where we need to talk more about what it means to be Catholic,” Fr. Straley said. The word “Catholic,” he explained, means universal and refers to the universality of the Church.

Julie Nackard, area councilor of the Western Lieutenancy for the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in Phoenix, met with Msgr. Shabi in March at the request of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. The bishop urged the Knights to broaden their definition of the Holy Land to include Iraq.

After hearing about the needs of the Chaldean community, Nackard spoke with fellow members about reaching out to local Iraqi Catholics. In April, the group gathered at Mar Abraham to pray the rosary and listen to a short presentation by Msgr. Shabi.

On May 17, Fr. Straley, Nackard and other members of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre enjoyed a dinner with Emmanuel III Cardinal Delly, patriarch of Babylon, who was visiting from Baghdad.

Representatives from the local Byzantine Catholic Church, including Bishop Gerald Dino, the Right Reverend Archimandrite Wes Izer and Fr. Stephen Washko, as well as representatives of the Knights of Columbus from nearby St. Patrick Parish were also in attendance.

On May 18, Msgr. Shabi concelebrated a Mass for members of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and spoke at the group’s annual dinner and business meeting at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.

“We are a Church of martyrs,” Msgr. Shabi said. “We trace our roots to the apostle Thomas, the one who evangelized our country