Bawai Soro heads the Eparchy of Mar Addai of the Chaldeans in Toronto
By Weam Namou
“Here I am, Lord,” Bishop Bawai Soro said the words of the Prophet Samuel in response to the Lord’s call. “I repeat them in response to the call of His Beatitude, Mar Louis Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch and the members of the Holy Chaldean Synod who elected me as the third Bishop of the Eparchy of Mar Addai of the Chaldeans in Toronto. Through them I say to the clergy and believers, young and old, and from all walks of life, ‘Here I am, at your service.’”
This was the opening instillation remarks of Bishop Soro on November 29, 2017.
He added, “I come to Toronto to fulfill a dream, that the Eparchy of Mar Addai may one day soon join hands with her Sister Eparchies, Saint Thomas and Saint Peter in the United States, in matters related to the training of seminarians and promoting of cultural and educational ties among Chaldeans.”
Born Ashur Andrius Soro in Kirkuk, Iraq on March 3, 1954 and raised in Baghdad, Ashur entered the Assyrian Seminary in Baghdad in 1973. A year later, he left with his family to immigrate to Australia, through Lebanon. Due to the civil war in Lebanon, in April 1976 he instead settled in Chicago, IL while his family immigrated to Australia. In Chicago, he rejoined a local Assyrian clergy formation house.
On February 21, 1982, he was ordained a priest for Saint Mary’s Church in Toronto. Less than two years later, at 30 years of age, Father Ashur Soro was elected a bishop (consecrated Bishop Bawai Soro) by the Assyrian Holy Synod to head a newly established Diocese of Western United States. After more than 20 years of episcopal ministry in the Assyrian Church, in March 2006, Bishop Bawai sought full-communion with Pope Benedict XVI, converting to Catholicism.
“When I became aware of the heritage of the theology of our Canon law, I saw that our church fathers have great respect for Rome and the Catholic Church,” he said.
That is why he led a movement that brought dozens of his clergy along with nearly 3,000 faithful to leave the Assyrian Church and join the Chaldean Catholic Church.
“It was a long journey,” he said. “The history of Assyrians and Chaldeans is a complicated one, but they’re the same people. The Church divided them. The more we read about it, the more we find our common root and a joint history. This should prompt among us a feeling of unity, collaboration and charity.”
He explained that Chaldeans and Assyrians come from Iraq as well as Iran, but Iraq is their mother land. When the Church of the East united with Rome in the 16th Century, the first to unite were the Assyrians of Iran. The Chaldeans of Nineveh Plains came to the Catholic faith hundreds of years later.
“The Church of Christ should unite,” he said. “Church unity is not a political alliance. It’s not like the European Union. In the beginning, the Church was one. Jesus created one church. Over time, pride and selfishness and human sinfulness made church divide.”
What would be the solution? How could people unite?
“We shouldn’t work toward marginalizing the other side, but toward cooperation and allowing the other to have the same rights that you have,” he said. “If you’re a proud Chaldean then let the other guy be a proud Assyrian, and vice versa.”
Coming from a background of small towns and provinces, he believes that these communities never had a vision to have a whole continent together. Given the considerable size of the population in those areas, they need to come together to establish a strong force in political lobbying, financial strength and human resources.
“The more power you have, the stronger you feel to push toward attaining your goal,” he said.
This in turn would help the new generation have a strong sense of identity, as is the case with other ethnicities such as Italians and the Polish. From his years of experience, observation, and even suffering, he has noticed that the people love to unite but usually the cleric are the ones who insist on their ways and somewhat discourage people from unity.
“It’s because unity implies a compromise,” he said, and compared it to marriage where a man and woman, once they combine their lifestyles, undergo a lot of compromises from both sides. “Why? Because each no longer lives solely for themselves, but for each other. When people with authority, like bishops and priests, have to compromise, they must sacrifice something and sometimes that’s not easily applied.”
But things are changing. The church is evolving and maturing into an international church.
“We are no longer a tribal mentality, but a western, motivated, cosmopolitan culture by which all people are endowed by equal rights by their creators,” he said. “We have different roles but we’re equal in dignity.”
The younger bishops will have influence in making this unity possible.
“Bishop Kallabat is an excellent man of great faith and has the necessary humility to become a great source of help for Bishop Shalita and myself.”
He emphasized there has been much progress since the last century with mutual collaboration and respect. The Assyrian church, for example, has had good open dialogue with the Vatican for the last 35 years.
“The better Christian you are, the less you assert your own personal authority because you don’t live for yourself but for Christ,” he said. “In the Church, faithful clerics shouldn’t really live for themselves but for Christ because He is our spouse.”