US Chaldeans thrilled by Pope’s visit to Iraq

'To see the Pope in the land of my ancestors, where no pope has ever journeyed, was simply magical,' says Chaldean-American Crystal Jabiro

ERBIL, IRAQ - MARCH 07: Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he arrives to conduct mass at the  Franso Hariri Stadium on March 07, 2021 in Erbil, Iraq. Pope Francis arrived in Erbil, the final stop of his historic four-day visit, the first-ever papal visit to Iraq. In his first foreign trip since the start of the pandemic, Pope Francis visited Baghdad, Najaf, Erbil, and the cities of Qaraqosh and Mosul, which were heavily destroyed by ISIS. Although the trip is seen as an act of solidarity, the Vatican has been forced to defend the decision to go ahead with the papal visit amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as Iraq is currently seeing a spike in infection rates as it faces a deadly second wave of the virus. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***

Crystal Jabiro spent hours glued to her computer screen at the weekend. Her eyes transfixed by the images of Pope Francis celebrating a Mass inside the Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq.

"It was emotional and exhilarating," said Ms Jabiro, a middle-school teacher in Bloomfield, Michigan.

“To see the pope in the land of my ancestors, where no pope has ever journeyed, was simply magical.”

Ms Jabiro is one of more than an estimated 160,000 Iraqi Chaldeans living in Michigan.

Her father came from Baghdad and her mother from Tel Kaif in northern Iraq. Both moved to the US in 1968 after facing persecution because of their Chaldean-Catholic faith.

Ms Jabiro grew up in a deeply religious home and her family's traditions remained rooted in those of Iraq, even though she has never visited the country. The idea the Pope might one day visit her ancestral home never crossed her mind.

“I never thought: ‘Oh, the Pope should visit Iraq,’” she said.

But the images and sounds of Pope Francis touring Iraq will stay with her for years.

“I was crying pretty much the whole time watching the Mass, especially when I heard the ancient chants, the chants that we hear every Sunday at church and hearing it there in front of the Pope and hearing parts of the Mass and the singing in Aramaic and Syriac, which is the language of Jesus Christ, it was just magical.”

The Chaldean community in Michigan remains deeply involved in Iraq. The Chaldean Community Foundation and Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce advocate on behalf of the community in Iraq and are constantly lobbying the US and Iraqi governments to better protect religious minorities there.

“We are greatly heartened by Pope Francis’s historic and vitally important visit to Iraq,” said Martin Manna, president of both the Chaldean Community Foundation and the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.

"He has brought to this troubled region a sincere and resolute call to embrace peace, brotherhood and solidarity for all. It is our eternal hope that our brothers and sisters who have suffered for so long will once again find veneration and tranquillity in their native land.

"Now is the time for policymakers to take the steps and actions necessary to ensure this becomes reality."

For Ms Jabiro and other American-born Chaldeans, the Pope’s visit to Iraq allowed them to see their ancestral homeland in a new light.

“We see it as this constant war zone, this place to fear, but the Pope brought such solace,” she said.

Ms Jabiro hopes that one day she too may travel to Iraq and attend a Mass in the churches of her ancestors.