Rome (Fides Service)- “It was a joy to see the community so spiritually united and strong” Iraqi Catholic priest Father Nizar Semaan, from Ninive diocese in Iraq told Fides after a recent visit to Catholics in the United States. “There are no official statistics but it is thought that there are about 250,000 Catholic Syrian, Chaldean Catholic and Syrian-Antioch Catholic immigrants, more recent and long standing residents. The cities with the largest communities of Iraqi Christians are Detroit, Chicago and San Francisco”.
“The first immigrants arrived in the 1970s and are now fully integrated in American social and economic life. There is now a second generation, the children of those first immigrants, who were born in the United States and have never been to Iraq. But they were brought up with the values and traditions of the families. Many speak Aramaic, the language spoken by most Iraqi Christians and used for the Liturgy” said Father Nizar.
“The first generation prepared the way for the new immigrants who arrived in the 1990s. Thanks to the fact that in the community there are a number of rich people and the community has a marked sense unity, the new arrivals soon found work” said Father Nizar. “Many had degrees but while waiting for the degree to be recognised by the US authorities, they were willing to do any job for the first couple of years. Now, many are doctors and engineers appreciated by all”.
“At the spiritual level I was pleased to see whole families pray the rosary every evening and massive Sunday Mass attendance” the Iraqi priest said. “Mass is celebrated in Aramaic, English and Arabic, for Catholics from Baghdad and Mosul who do not speak Aramaic”.
“Iraqi Christians in America keep profound spiritual ties with their homeland expressed in gestures of concrete solidarity particularly during the 11 years of UN sanctions against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Thanks to help from Iraqis in America, entire families in Iraq survived during that long period” Father Nizar recalled. “Today many American Iraqis contribute generously towards the rebuilding of their homeland. Some plan to return and start a business to give work to some of the many Iraqis without work”. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 17/3/2004, righe35 parole 444)