Here come the Arab Christians

It’s a phenomenon that’s transforming more and more communities around the United States (shown above: St. Elias Maronite Church in Birmingham, AL).

From the AP:

Jordanian immigrants take Communion at an Arabic-language Mass in Albuquerque. Lebanese-Americans help raise nearly $2 million for major improvements to a West Virginia church. Iraqi refugees who practice an ancient religion that views John the Baptist as their teacher hold baptisms in a Massachusetts pond popular for rowing regattas.

As war, the economy and persecution by Muslim extremists push Arab Christians and religious minorities out of the Middle East, the refugees and immigrants are quietly settling in small pockets across the U.S. They are reviving old, dormant churches, bringing together families torn apart by war and praying collectively in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. Religious experts say their growing presence in the U.S. is all about survival as Christians and religious minorities continue to get pushed out of the Holy Land.

And religious leaders said if violence continues, more can be expected to seek safety in the U.S. while disappearing in lands where they’re lived for 2,000 years.

“For every plus in the U.S., there’s a minus back there,” said the Rev. Bakhos Chidiac, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Church of Lakewood, Colo. “It’s very sad.”

According the U.S. State Department’s 2011 reports on International Religious Freedom, for example, Iraq had an estimated Christian population of around 1.4 million before the U.S.-led invasion. The report says only around 400,000 to 600,000 remain and face increasing violence.

No one knows exactly how many Christians and religious minorities have fled persecution or come willingly for economic reasons into the U.S. But from Michigan to Louisiana, observers have noticed an increase in services like those from Maronite Catholics – an Eastern Rite branch of Catholicism with roots in Lebanon and Syria. Maronites are part of the Catholic church, are recognized by the Pope and hold the same core beliefs as Roman Catholics. Mass is often held in Arabic and Aramaic.

Residents in Worcester, Mass., also have looked with curiosity as hundreds of recently resettled Iraqi refugees, who practice the pre-Christian Mandaean religion, hold early morning baptisms in Lake Quisigamond. Mandaeans have seen their population decrease in Iraq from 70,000 in the 1990s to just 3,000 today. In addition, more than 1,000 Iranian Mandaeans have fled to the U.S. after Iran passed laws prohibiting Mandaeans in civil life.

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5 responses to “Here come the Arab Christians”

  1. I’ve had one my high-school age kids start taking Arabic lessons from a Maronite Catholic woman in town. I was generally aware of Arab Christianity, of course, but looking the materials she has brought over for class, it’s really quite interesting.

  2. San Diego has a wonderful Chladean Community. I try at least every 4-6 weeks to go to mass there. The homily is always in English, the rest in Aramaic; absolutely bone chilling to hear the Eucharistic prayer. The altar is also stunning.

    I know we aren’t a “feeling based” faith, but when God gives it, the Chladean, like all masses, is pretty hard to beat.

  3. The Detroit Metro area, particularly Dearborn, has a high percentage of Chaldean Catholics. In fact, so many dislocated Iraqi’s live there, in a recent national election in Iraq, the voting authority in Bagdad set up an “international” voting center there in Dearborn for those folks to participate.

  4. “Arab” Catholics don’t need to be Arab.
    I go on my annual retreat to Holy Trinity Maronite monastery in Petersham, Ma. This Maronite monastery has been in existence for about 20 or 30 years. It is a semi-hermitage. (Bring plenty of books and be ready for a lot of silence–no retreat master rushing you around or drowning you in lectures).
    The abbot of this Maronite monastery is a former Latin Rite priest and of Irish ethnicity. He even graduated from the same Catholic high school in our city outside Boston some of my kids later graduated from.
    And the monastery is growing by leaps and bounds–but not just from an influx by Middle Eastern Catholics. Every year I go out there (it is in the far forested reaches of Ma. that Bostonians barely realize exists) there is another building going up and more monks.

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