Bishop Shaleta heads the Eparchy of Saint Peter Apostle of San Diego
BY WEAM NAMOU
The Vatican announced Wednesday, August 9, that Pope Francis named Bishop Emanuel Hana Shaleta as head of the eparchy of Saint Peter Apostle of San Diego of the Chaldeans.
“The [new] appointment was unexpected,” said Bishop Shaleta, who not long ago — in January 2015 — had been appointed to serve Mar Addai Eparchy of Toronto. “I was working in Toronto, trying to bring more priests to the eparchy. Things were moving forward there.”
He described when he first arrived in Canada; there was no order, no organized eparchy (the official term for the Eastern Catholic church, although most people use diocese). The church in Toronto had no priest at all, just the bishop. When Bishop Shaleta took over, he started putting things in order. He had a meeting with the clergy, selected deacons, choir members, and put into place some policies and regulations. There are nine parishes and two missions in Canada and, at the time, there were only six active priests. This made it impossible to keep up with the work.
“I was doing various work by myself,” he said. “After six months, I was able to ordain a priest. He served with me and that was a big relief because I was then able to visit other parishes for our eparchy.”
Within a year, Bishop Shaleta brought four priests from various places to join the Mar Addai Chaldean Eparchy in Toronto. This gave the eparchy greater possibilities to work for the estimated 40,000 Chaldeans that live in Canada, the majority of which are in Toronto and Windsor. One of the priests ended up getting into trouble involving money issues and has been suspended until the matter is cleared.
“Life in Canada is different than here in the U.S.,” said the Bishop. “It’s more expensive and people can hardly cope financially. They don’t have businesses, are mostly newcomers, and cannot help the church too much. But I hope that people will stay there and continue to have places of worship.”
Once a month, Bishop Shaleta drove from Toronto to Michigan because he still had many of his belongings there. This visit was also an opportunity to seek help and guidance from the well-established diocese in Michigan.
“The idea of switching from Canada to Sand Diego never crossed my mind,” he said. “In the beginning, I thought, I just started here. But my responsibility is not to country or family members but whatever the church asks of me. I always worked for the community. That’s my personal family.”
While he doesn’t know the reason he was chosen to serve in California, he suspects one of the factors may be due to him having served there previously for 14 years — in Los Angeles and Orange County.
“I know a lot about California,” he said. “The demographics are different than Michigan. In California, we have a lot of Assyrian Catholics.”
The Assyrian Catholics who attend the Chaldean church in California don’t speak Chaldean or Arabic. They speak Assyrian and are mostly from Iran. They use Persian words.
“It was a big challenge for me to understand these people in the beginning until, little by little, I was able to communicate with them,” he said. “Now I can communicate with them easily.”
They also never say they’re Chaldean. They call themselves Assyrian Catholics.
“They have a different mentality and you have to understand where they come from and what they want so you can serve them,” he said. “They belong to our rite and liturgy and that’s why they come to us. When we pray, we don’t speak the same dialect. But it’s all the same church.”
One of the things Bishop Shaleta hopes to do in California is help settle some of the misunderstandings and disagreements that people have amongst each other.
“Our people are good people and most love the church but sometimes they are deceived into ways that are not church ways,” he said. “It’s not their fault, but they think it’s the right thing to do and so they go in a different direction. We are human beings and we have our own weaknesses and troubles, including myself, but with God’s grace we will do our best to serve our people.”
He emphasizes that the only way to do this is through the grace of God, and by people putting aside their personal interests and hidden agendas; it will not be done through strength, intelligence, or authority.
“We want our next generations to know who we are and what our heritage is,” he said. “We are very proud to carry the name of this church that started from the time of the apostles and through many persecutions it persisted because we kept our faith and interest in our church. Nothing stopped the church from going forward because it’s built and founded on the rock and faith of Jesus Christ.”