Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Chaldean Jesuit reflects.

When I returned to Ciszek Hall in August after a summer away, I found a copy of the June issue of National Jesuit News sitting in my mailbox. Published six times a year by the United States Jesuit Conference, the NJN is mostly made up of articles and news items of a purely internal nature - notes on what various Jesuits are doing in their apostolates, obituaries of recently deceased Jesuits, and editorial pieces on issues debated within the Society. The NJN's June issue of the NJN (available online for download) contains a very moving piece by Father Denis Como, a Jesuit of the New England Province currently based in Jordan who recently spent two months teaching English to Chaldean seminarians in Iraq. Ordained a Chaldean Catholic priest forty-one years ago, Father Como reflects on how service to Middle Eastern Christians has been a central part of his Jesuit life:
At the age of 24, I received my first apostolic assignment from the New England Province Jesuits - to teach at the high school in Baghdad, Iraq, that opened in 1932. During that period, I discovered a small community of Chaldean Rite Iraqi monks in a desert camp in a place called Dora. The simplicity and openness of their lifestyle has had a lasting influence on me. When it came time for my priestly ordination in 1966, instead of remaining with the Latin Rite, I eventually joined the Chaldean Rite.
Boston was a great place to go deeper into the spirituality of the Eastern churches. As a seminarian, I helped at the Maronite church in Jamaica Plain and took some theology courses at the Melchite Seminary in Methuen. During the summer of 1965, I learned the devotional practices of Iraqi immigrants at a Chaldean parish in Detroit.

I did my final year of formal Jesuit training in India in 1967-68 and became close to the Malabar Christians, many of whose forebears had been introduced to Christianity by the Chaldean monks who followed the waters of the Tigris to Africa and India.

In 1968, the Iraqi government seemed to have jettisoned all my preparations for a life of service in Iraq when the schools were nationalized and Jesuits were expelled from the country by the Ba'athist regime. But my dream never diminished. I found myself back in the Middle East (Jordan) almost five years ago where the once familiar sights, sounds and smells returned so freshly. In my new assignment, my flock was mostly Jordanian but very soon I discovered the Chaldean Iraqi Catholics, as well as other ethnic and religious groups that make up Iraq's astounding spiritual living landscape. The Iraqi Catholic Community of Amman, Jordan, welcomed me with a totality that I had almost forgotten.
Though he doesn't directly address the struggles facing Iraqi Christians who have chosen to remain in Iraq, Como has done his bit to support the Church there through his work at the Chaldean seminary in Arbil. On the basis of his experience there, Como can say that his Jesuit life has truly come full circle:
When I arrived in Arbil, I had the grand feeling of being back in 1960 with Chaldean monks and seminarians. Now, however, I had within me a beautiful carpet of accumulated personal history and it was ready to be used well.

For the two months I taught English, I became a "big brother" or in reality "a smiling grandfather" to these young men who would all too soon become the priests in villages and towns all over Iraq.

. . .

Friends have asked me, "What next, Denis?" I respond by saying that I simply would like to accompany these young men, women religious, and the involved laity in their efforts to bring God's tender love to their village parishes and towns. Maybe I am just an old man wanting to be part of the life of young people, but I think it is more my need to tell my story. It is really God's story with me. But why? To give them the hope and courage that I received from older people when I was their age. To re-live the liturgy of my life and to discover something deeper than I thought was there before. To sing our song of faith is not to reminisce but to admit that the story continues to go deeper. There is no final cycle even when we find ourselves in God's arms.
My prayers are with Denis Como as he continues his ministry among the Chaldean Catholics of Iraq and Jordan. I pray also for the Iraqi Christians that Father Como has dedicated much of his life to serving, that they may again enjoy peace and security in their own country. AMDG.


At 9/28/2007 8:15 PM, Blogger Lisa said...



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