ORANGEVALE, Calif. (CNS) -- Tom Simon genuflects and kneels in prayer before the tabernacle. "It takes love, faith and sacrifice to build a house of the Lord," he says. Now, after long years of planning, hard work and some divine intervention, the Chaldean and the Assyrian Catholics of the Sacramento area have their own house of the Lord -- Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chaldean and Assyrian Catholic Church in Orangevale.
"It's for the Lord." Neil Simon Nofaley says softly as he looks around the bright and beautiful church. Nofaley, Simon's father, has been a subdeacon and leader of the small Chaldean community for 27 years. He speaks proudly about not only their new church building but of the history of the Chaldeans, a Christian church now centered in Iraq, a history that began long before Christianity. "Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldeans, 160 kilometers from Baghdad," Nofaley says. "And when he wanted a wife for his son Isaac he found her among the Chaldeans."
Centuries later Chaldeans were among the first gentiles to embrace Christianity. St. Thomas the Apostle and two disciples brought the Gospel to the small kingdom of Chaldea in what is now northern Iraq. For nearly 2,000 years, the Chaldeans and the Assyrians have kept the faith even though they were a politically powerless minority in a region ruled at first by pagans and then by Islam.
Over the centuries, it has earned the title "the church of the martyrs." The persecution continues even now. "Sixty-eight of our churches in Iraq were attacked, bombed and some destroyed," Simon says. "Twenty-eight of our priests, including the archbishop, were kidnapped, tortured and some beheaded. One nun was beheaded. Children have been kidnapped and held for ransom -- often far more than families could afford. One 6-year-old was killed because his family could not pay."