The Metro-Detroit area has been the largest hub for Chaldean Catholics in America. The Chaldean Church, also called The Church of the East, can be seen as the liturgical and historical “older brother” of our own SyroMalabar Church. Before arriving in India, St. Thomas the Apostle evangelized the people of modern day Iraq. Despite constant persecution in the Middle East, and amid the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq, the Chaldeans still thrive. Knowing that the Chaldeans, many of whom still speak and worship in Aramaic (the language of Jesus and the Apostles), have ten churches in the Metro-Detroit area, I felt a call to reach out to them and encounter what our older brothers in faith had to offer.
I was able to contact Fr. Frank, a young, up-and-coming priest in the largest Chaldean parish in America, the first American-born Chaldean to be ordained. To my surprise, the person I had approached to learn about his faith tradition, had an obsession with studying ours! But beyond his interest in the SyroMalabar Church, his ability to identify with the many struggles younger generations of Eastern Catholics face, made his take unique. “Our kids complain about the length of the Mass and not being able to understand the a liturgy conducted in an unfamiliar language. So many of our faithful have drifted away and predictably so. We have been giving them difficult to digest meals from the beginning when what they really needed was baby food.” The problem, he said, is the lack of conversions of heart, especially among our second generation immigrant youth.
Now, it is true that experiencing the fullness and beauty of our Eastern Rite liturgy requires significant work on our part. However, in our zeal to pass on this beauty to our brothers and sisters, we sometimes have the tendency to expose them to a fire hydrant force of tradition, ritual, and meaning, when all they may be able to handle is mother's milk from a baby bottle. “One must be converted in both the head and the heart for faith to take root deeply,” said Fr. Frank. In his own live, Fr. Frank lives out this vision, by attempting to understand Truth in a scholarly way, while simultaneously learning to connect on a heart-to-heart level with his parishioners.
And so follows the path of evangelization that we, as the people of God, are called to take. The new evangelization is likewise about reaching the heart, first and foremost. Our witness—our ability to live our friendship with Jesus, the principles we have come to know through Him, and the mission to serve others—arises from the ability to open up and share our transformed hearts with all our brothers and sisters. Even then, we must start with baby food before we can introduce them to the full, glorious feast from which we have been graced with the tiniest taste. Conversion is a never-ending journey, beginning with the uncertain baby steps of a toddler. Our sensitivity to this fact allows us to share in the evangelization that our popes, our spiritual father in faith, St. Thomas, and most importantly, Christ himself, call us to perform.
The new evangelization challenges us in a bold and exciting way. We cannot evangelize unless we are transformed. We cannot evangelize without removing the veil around our own hearts that dims the radiance of Christ. We cannot evangelize without authentic friendship. We cannot evangelize without meeting others at their stage in the journey. Only then can we fulfill our sacred duty to be a “light for all nations.”