Last month, Bishop Mar Bawai Soro and nearly 1,000 Assyrian Christian families were received into communion with the Chaldean Catholic Church in California. Bishop Bawai explained the process to CNA, and expressed his hope that other Assyrian churches will also consider uniting with the Catholic Church.
The Assyrian Church, centered in modern-day Iraq, dates back to the earliest days of Christianity. Around the fifth century, the Assyrian followers began to embrace the teachings of Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople whose doctrines were condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
However, at the beginning in the sixteenth century, large numbers of Nestorian Assyrians came into union with Rome, creating the Chaldean Catholic Church which is now larger than the Assyrian Church.
Bishop Soro described the process of coming into communion with the Catholic Church to CNA: Twenty years ago, many of the Assyrian church’s faithful realized that other than Papal Primacy, there were no theological issues that existed between themselves and the Catholic Church. He explained that, “the more I studied Catholic theology, the more I became certain that both Churches were basically of the same apostolic faith and practice.”
The Assyrian prelate wasn’t the only one who saw this similarity. Bishop Soro recalled that, “at the same time, this hypothesis was also pondered upon by the official dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. The conclusion after twenty years of casual ‘talks’ and official dialogue proved this hypothesis to be correct.”
However, in 2004 the patriarch and bishops “decided to suspend the dialogue with Rome” even though “all obstacles for restoring communion with the Catholic Church (Papal Primacy not included)” were proven not to exist.
Bishop Soro said that his fellow bishops’ rejection came despite a recognition that there was an agreement between the two traditions. He explained that, “they knew well that the ecclesial patrimony of the Assyrian Church of the East -- canonical, liturgical, and patristic -- recognizes the Primacy of the See of Rome. Despite the fact that this was my appeal and argument to my church leaders for many years - -be faithful to your tradition and enter the Catholic Communion, i.e., accept the Primacy of the Pope - - they did not listen.”
Instead, in 2005, “they decided both to break the dialogue with Rome and to suspend me from the Assyrian Church of the East. And so, since 2005, I have been able to rally those Assyrian faithful who became as discontent with their church’s attitude as I was and bring them to understand that the best step to be taken is the restoration of communion with Rome. In the past two and half years, we gradually paved the way for the historic move to unite with the Chaldean Church.”
Bishop Bar Mawai also spoke of his hope for the rest of the Assyrian Church of the East to unite with Rome. In an interview with Terrasanta.net, the bishop stated that while there is a possibility for community, two factors must be considered: time and hard work.
The prelate explained: “At the present time, some of the anger has to melt away before any realistic attempt is reinitiated. We are doing all that is humanly possible to reply with compassion and reason to all the accusation and condemnations some of the radical Assyrian groups and individuals are directing at us because of our union with Rome. We hope that ultimately the truth of God’s work and the message of His forgiving love will prevail over all trials.”
In regards to the second factor, the bishop emphasizes the importance of showing the world, “that church unity is a win/win proposition,” especially for Christians in Iraq. “The Christian communities out there need all the help and support they can muster. And, through such unity, for example, Iraqi Christians become more assertive of their commitment to all that will give witness to their Christian character and advance their genuine contribution Iraq.”