lunedì, marzo 24, 2014


Unity among churches may take time but it is possible: Mar Sarhad Y. Jammo and Mar Bawai Soro

By Baghdadhope*

The issue of the acceptance by the Catholic Church of a bishop who comes from a church that does not recognize the authority of the Pope of Rome is delicate. So it was for the case of Mar Bawai Soro, former bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East and now bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church, who has been pleading the cause of unity between the two eastern churches, daughters of the same motherland, Mesopotamia, current Iraq. To befriend Mar Bawai on the path of conversion to Catholicism was Mar Sarhad Jammo, the Chaldean bishop of the Eparchy of the Western United States who accepted Mar Bawai in his diocese well before the official appointment by the Vatican.

What follows are two interviews given to Baghdadhope by the two above mentioned bishops in different times.
Mar Sarhad Jammo’s interview  dates back to April 2008 when, on the occasion of the priestly ordination in the Vatican, Mar Bawai Soro sat alongside the other Chaldean bishops in a sort of "unofficial acceptance."
The interview with Mar Bawai Soro, instead, dates back to after his assignment in January 2014, of the Titular See of Foraziana.
Two questions emerges from the interviews: can two churches (Assyrian and Chaldean) that trace their roots to the same "mother church" but that over the centuries have followed different and divergent paths reunite and overcome the mistrust that divided them? And also, the passage of a bishop with a complicated history from one church to another will be an obstacle to the process of union or an advantage? According to the two prelates it will be a long but possible journey.

      Interview with Bishop Sarhad Yawsip Jammo

April 2008

My diocese has been "privileged by the Grace of God". By these words, Mgr. Sarhad Y. Jammo, the Chaldean bishop of the Western United States Eparchy concluded a brief interview issued to Baghdadhope that Sunday, April 27, 2008, reported the piece of news (1) of the presence in the Vatican during the Papal priestly ordinations, of Mar Bawai Soro who, until November 2005 was a Bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, a church that have many faithful in Iraq but the patriarchal see of which, entrusted to Mar Dinkha IV, is in Chicago, since 1979.

Excellency, do we have to think of a sort of "unofficial" reception of Mar Bawai as a new bishop of the Chaldean Church and therefore of the Catholic Church? What point has the process of union so often invoked by you and by Mar Bawai reached?
“A good point I would say. When in November 2007 the relationship between the Assyrian Church of the East and Mar Bawai finally stopped it was possible for him to think about how to implement practically the project of unity which aims at the common path in the Catholic faith. In January 2008 he, with some priests, deacons and faithful, created the ACAD (Assyrian Apostolic Catholic Diocese) that I could define as "an ecclesiastical transitional entity." Obviously it is not a new church or a diocese, but rather a financial institution needed to fulfill the obligations towards those who agreed to join Mar Bawai on this path, such as priests who had to receive their salaries. The ACAD however, is no longer necessary because it is with joy that I can announce that Mar Bawai joined the Chaldean Diocese of St.Peter, created in May 2002 and that I chair since July of the same year.”
Mar Bawai Soro the 18° bishop of the Chaldean Church then?
“The acceptance of a bishop from another ecclesiastical reality is obviously not automatic. What has been done so far has been to follow the procedure laid down in these cases by the Holy See. Then my task, and pleasure, will be to present the situation to the Synod of the Chaldean Church.”
Mar Bawai was "removed" from the office of bishop of the Diocese of Western California of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East on November 2005. What position will he have in your diocese?
“His position will be settled within the Chaldean synod and for now it is premature to talk about it, but certainly we are talking about a defined "hierarchical position".
With regard to priests and deacons, what about their transition from the Assyrian Church of the East that does not recognize the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff to the Chaldean Church that recognizes it?
“The Holy See has already been informed that Mar Bawai, the priests (6) and the deacons (30) have done before me their profession of faith to the Catholic Church and to the Holy Father. There could not have been otherwise and they would not have wanted to do otherwise. The case is still before the Holy See that has not moved objections up to now. Five priests are exercising their ministry in the Diocese of Saint Peter and one in the Saint Thomas Diocese chaired by Mgr. Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.”
Let’s go back to Mar Bawai. In October 2007, almost two years after his removal from the office of bishop by the Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East, ended the civil trial brought by the church for the return of all properties he had been entrusted to. Why Mar Bawai did not return immediately such properties if it was clear that his relationship with the church was compromised?
“First we must clarify that the properties were not registered in his name. Then we need to explain that Mar Bawai had no intention of seizing them and that from the beginning he knew what the decision of the Supreme Court of California would be. The time elapsed was necessary to Mar Bawai to prepare the faithful who wanted to follow him on the path towards unity, towards full communion with the Catholic Church. How this would be possible without direct contact with those faithful? With particular regard to the Court's decision, I can only call it a blessing for our church. Welcoming in it all those who chose to do so without any property, but only with the gift of their faith in the common path, brings to silence all voices that in recent years have spread allegations of theft. We welcome our brothers for love in Christ that unites us, not for their "dowry".
 "Entering into full communion with the Catholic church." These are the words of Mar Bawai. His path, now that he is part of a Chaldean diocese is finished?
“Absolutely not. This is only the start of a movement which we hope will become wider, which may have an even greater impact on the faithful who are convinced, like me and Mar Bawai, that full communion with the Catholic Church is an integral part of Christian Doctrine.”
 The full communion with the Catholic Church made by Mar Bawai may fall under the definition used in the Doctrinal Note on some aspects of Evangelization approved by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 that talks of "… a non-Catholic Christian, [that] for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into full communion of the Catholic Church." (2) A request described as "work of the Holy Spirit and… expression of freedom of conscience and of religion". Many people instead will talk about proselytism by the Catholic Church…
“Certainly such an important event for the history of our church will give rise to controversies both by the Assyrian Church of the East and by other non-Catholic Christian denominations like the Orthodoxes. They will be dealt with the strength of the conviction that the path towards unity of the church proceeds along the path of Catholicism. We are not afraid. The Iraqi Christian community has been divided for too many centuries. It is time to face the reality, especially that of our faithful who live in Iraq, and understand that the unity of the Chaldean-Assyrian people is our only chance of survival.”      

Interview with Bishop Bawai Soro 

March 2014

In November 2005, the Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East suspended you from the role of Bishop of Western California. (3)  In November 2007, you accepted the decision of the Supreme Court of Santa Clara County, California, (4)  about the return to the ACOE of all the properties you were still managing. (5)   In January 2008, you created and managed the Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Diocese (ACAD) "to resume church unity with the Chaldean Catholic church" and to begin a "process of negotiation with respective Church authorities to define a concrete model of this union.” (6)  In May 2008, you, with the clergy and the faithful who had followed you, were officially accepted into the Chaldean Diocese of Saint Peter, (7) Western California, in the territory of which you have been serving since then.  In January 2014, after eight long and difficult years, you were officially appointed by Pope Francis a Bishop of the Chaldean Church. (8)  Can you tell us if there has been a moment in which, a part from your faith, you gave up hope of achieving this result? I mean from a practical point of view?
“There were plenty of moments in which I definitely felt the “dark nights of the soul”.  I couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel, but by God’s grace, I somehow did not give up hope.  I was certain that one day the truth would be vindicated.  To equip myself with the needed strength during such “dark” moments, I developed a piety with the martyrs of the Catholic Church and I befriended those whom I knew had suffered more than I did for the sake of the truth. I often prayed to the Lord this short prayer “Lord, I love you and will never leave you, even if I feel you have abandoned me.  Amen! Lord, I love you and will …”.  I repeated this prayer time and again.  And so, the darker my “moments” got the more I felt I was called to trust in the Lord and to continue my journey with steadfastness.  This trust caused me to have patience, which in turn helped me to endure for eight long and difficult years.”
In 2005 you were suspended by the ACOE synod on the basis of two letters (9)  you had addressed to the Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV on April and June of that year.  These letters were labeled as “un-canonical” because you had accused the Patriarch to have broken the Canonical Laws and to have caused division in your California diocese. Can you elaborate on these two points and explain how this was connected to the question of full communion with the Catholic Church?
“In the early 2000’s it became a matter of public knowledge that I was having disagreement with the Assyrian Synod about a decision they adapted in regard to a sexual misconduct case in which one of the bishops was involved. We know about this case because it had eventually reached a major Chicago newspaper. (10)  Because it had became a matter of public knowledge, my position was that the above-said bishop had to be suspended since the church canons were very clear about such public scandals, but contrary to church canons, the Assyrian Synod decreed not to suspend him.  At the same time, as this controversy was brewing, the Assyrian Synod was gradually downscaling its ecumenical commitment with the Catholic Church and its ecclesial unity process with the Chaldean Catholic Church. The main reason for this reversal of positions was that the ACOE was not willing to accept any form or shape of Papal Primacy. Privately, the Assyrian bishops’ reasoning was: Papal Primacy will obligate us to be accountable to a more defined Eastern Canon Law, under the direct observation of the Bishop of Rome. A good example of their concern would have been how the Synod of ACOE have dealt with the case of the bishop’s sexual misconduct. They wanted to enjoy “freedom” in the ACOE more than “being in communion” with the Catholic Church. And so, wanting to curtail my advocacy within my own diocese, the Patriarch, with the help of a few Assyrian hierarchs, began nurturing strong opposition among the clergy and faithful in my own diocese, against me personally and my ecclesial views.  By August 2004, there was already a 300-person petition drive to transfer me out of the ACOE Diocese of California because I was perpetuating Catholicism upon the Assyrians.  Both of these measures were used against me in the Synod of October 2005, when I was told that I had to accept either to be transferred to Iran and Russia, or just be suspended from episcopacy.”
Much has been said however by your detractors about your acting behind the back of the ACOE hierarchy even before 2005. I am referring to the statement under oath (11) made in 2006 by five ACOE priests about your inviting them, back in 2003, to be part of the “G group” the aim of which was to "re-establish full communion with the Catholic Church within the context of ecclesiastical unity with the Chaldean Catholic Church" through a Phase A of "soft persuasion" that, if not sufficient, would led to Phase B in which the bishops and priests of Group G would leave the ACOE to join the Chaldean church.  I think not many in Italy have ever heard about the G group. Can you explain to us what was the “Group G” and what was its aim?
“Yes, indeed there was such a thing, but it had started much earlier than 2003.  The cases of the bishop’s sexual misconduct in the early 2000’s and the ongoing feeling that the ACOE was a church in total ecclesial isolation had prompted an unusual kind of thinking in some of the educated Assyrian priests and seminarians studying in Rome.  I wanted to transform this delicate predisposition into a positive momentum, thus I called upon these young educated priests, studying in Rome, to establish a core group that may one day become a beacon of light for the ACOE.  There were total agreement, respect and collaboration among all of us for several years, up until the time when I was suspended and immediately some serious threats by the Assyrian Patriarch and Synod were directed at these seminarians studying in Rome or at any faithful who was sympathetic with me.  By such an approach, the ACOE was able to pressure the young priests in Rome to come out and lodge a public offense against me, after many years of deep and serene agreement and good work for the sake of saving the ACOE.  Nevertheless, I and many other observers are still hopeful that these same priests, now some of them have become bishops, (12) will eventually become the “bridge” to establish full communion between the ACOE and the Catholic Church.”
Your path towards the full communion with the Catholic Church is a long one. Already since the end of the 80s you were an active actor of the studies and meetings that led to the Christological Common Declaration (13) signed in 1994 by the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV and by Pope John Paul II, and to the various agreements reached with the Chaldean Church. (14) These agreements, however, were stranded at the last stage that it was said would envisage the recognition of the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff by the Assyrian Church of the East.  As an expert of the case and, I would say, of both the outlooks - Catholic and Assyrian – do you think there is still space for a real full communion between the two churches?
“Of course there is. Church unity is something that Almighty God wills, thus it is destined to be fulfilled.  If our Lord prayed for church unity, then it must happen, sooner or later.  I don’t think, however, that for Churches that are witnessing internal and external difficulties this unity will be something easy.  It may take some time and it will come in small pieces.  I hope the right people will lead both the Assyrian and the Chaldean Churches at the right time.  This will be what will break down any ecclesial gridlock.”
Both the ACOE and the Catholic Church lately showed to be interested again and more in resuming the dialogue aiming at their unity. There was the meeting in Rome on October 2012 of a delegation of ACOE with the Cardinal Koch, (15) President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the warm welcome (16) in Australia of the Chaldean Patriarch, Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, by Mar Meelis Zaia, ACOE Metropolitan of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon and the warm words expressed about unity on that occasion, and the letters exchanged (17a/b) in 2013 between Mar Sako and Mar Dinkha in which unity was again favorably considered by both parts….
“As I said above, I hope the right people will lead both Churches at the same time.  This will be what will break the ecclesial gridlock and shall lead ALL our people to unity.”
As a former Assyrian and current Chaldean bishop who, as previously mentioned, had a role in this dialogue, do you think you will have a part in this new course between the churches? What could it be? Do you think the ACOE can oppose to your being involved in it?  I am thinking of the document (18) released by the Assyrian Church of the East only 11 days after your being assigned the Titular See of Foraziana in which your assignment is said to “exerts a negative influence and poses an obstacle to the path of rapprochement of our two churches” i.e. the Chaldean and the Assyrian Church of the East.
“As far as I am concerned, I have made several public statements, even after receiving the Papal appointment on 11 January 2014, that I have nothing but love for the ACOE and hold nothing against any of its bishops, clergy or faithful.  They are my beloved people, sisters and brothers in Christ, and I have forgiven any violation committed against me in the past years.  I hope this feeling will one day soon be mutual between us.  It may take though some time for the normalization needed that in the future could bring all of us back to collaboration and ultimately to unity.”
Recently the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, felt the need to ask publicly through the Patriarchate web site (19) to “the faithful and sons of the Church” to stop what have been described as “beating the drums and calumniation” referring to your having been officially appointed bishop of the Chaldean Church. According to the statement the Chaldean patriarchate had already informed the ACOE Patriarchate whose reaction, it is said, had been “very honorable and ecumenical” (it was before the above-mentioned document released by the Assyrian Church of the East against your assignment as a Chaldean bishop) and it is its desire (of the Chaldean Church) to persist on the path of unity. Unity between the two churches is something Mar Sako is pursuing since his appointment (20) but the position of Mar Sarhad Jammo, the Chaldean bishop who more than any other promoted your case, seems to be more linked to Chaldean nationalism (21) than to a possible union with the ACOE. It seems as though you are caught between a rock and a hard place. Can you please elaborate on this subject?
“In the past 50 years, there has been no other Chaldean ecclesial personality like Bishop Sarhad who throughout his priestly and episcopal ministries has approached the ACOE’s Patriarch and bishops for the purpose of ecclesial reconciliation and unity between the two Churches. For 35 years I have been both an observer and an active participant in Bishop Sarhad’s efforts.  Bishop Sarhad’s love for his people is expressed both through his efforts in ecclesial unity and through emphasizing the cultural identity of the Chaldeans.  To seek one’s own cultural identity and ecclesial unity is to fulfill one’s own Christian and ecclesial duties.  Others can call them what they like but for us Catholics, whether Chaldean or not, Canon 28 of the Eastern Code of Canon Law (22) says it all.  So, as far as I am concerned, Bishop Sarhad’s advocacy of the Chaldean identity never posed any difficulty because of the reasons I mention above.  In fact, I was privileged to have collaborated with him.
Your Papal appointment of 11 January 2014, states your title, as the Titular Bishop of Foraziana. What about your assignment or office in the Chaldean Church?
 “The Papal assignment which I received on January 2014, states that the Holy Father assigned to me the Titular See of Foraziana, (and also declared that I am) in the pastoral service in the Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Peter, in San Diego, CA (USA).  I am very willing to continue to serve there since this is the will and the appointment of the Holy Father to me.”

All the notes are by Baghdadhope, also those referred to Mar Soro's answers:

(1) Mar Bawai Soro: place of honour in Saint Peter

(2) Doctrinal note on some aspects of Evangelization

(3)  Bishop’s Soro removal letter

(4) Assyrian Church Wins Two-Year Court Battle

(5) Full Text of the Statement Issued by Bishop Mar Bawai Soro

(6) Press Release: Assyrian Catholic Apostolic Diocese (ACAD)

(7) Diocesan Announcement

(8) 11 gennaio 2014 Udienze e nomine

     Chaldean Bishops appointed

(9)  The tenth Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East

(10) Chicago Tribune: Parishioner Accused Of Blackmail

(11) Declaration of the Clergy of the Assyrian Church of the East

(12) Mar Awa Royel, Bishop of California and Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Paulus Benjamin Bishop of Eastern United States

(13) Common Christological declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East

(14) "Guidelines for Admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East"

(15) Press release: The Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East

(16) Mar Meelis Zaia Metropolitan and Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I Sako meet in Sydney

(17a)  Chaldean Patriarch Sako writes to Assyrian Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV: let us go back to full unity

(17b) Patriarch Sako Receives a Letter of Thanks from His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East

(18)  Press Release: Holy Synod of the Assyrian Church of the East

(19)  بيان من البطريركية حول قبول الأسقف باوي

(20) Mar Louis Raphael I Sako. Rispetto delle tradizioni ma soprattutto rinnovamento

(21)  The Chaldean Renaissance: Basic Outline of a Vision

(22) Code of Canon of Oriental Churches 

       Codice dei Canoni delle Chiese Orientali

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