A group of religious refugees are finding a home in East Tennessee. Chaldean Catholics, native to Iraq, are fleeing their home country to avoid persecution.
Many Chaldeans are tortured, even murdered over their religious beliefs. There are an estimated 150,000 Chaldeans in the United States, including over 100 in East Tennessee. On Saturday, Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim of the St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Chaldean Diocese, which covers the Eastern US, said mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville to help teach local Catholics about the Chaldean's plight.
"Usually they believe that all Iraqis are Muslims, but no, we are Christians even from the beginning, before Islam was there, Christians were there," Bishop Ibrahim said.
Joining him are members of the newly formed organization "Iraqi Christians in Need".
"We're trying to raise awareness for what's going on in Iraq for these Christians, this is our launch of the organization," said ICIN board member Susan Dakak. "The fact that I can say there are Christians in Iraq is just unbelievable. It's such a foreign thing to people here and unless people have a constant reminder that there are Christians in Iraq, then people are not going to rise to help them."
Leaders of the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville hope to help them achieve their goal.
"We're hopeful here to establish a mission for the Chaldean community, that's the Iraqi Christians, so that community, especially those recently arrived immigrants, might gather together in worship and prayer to pray for peace and greater understanding in the world so that all people might be able to practice their faith and their freedom in security," said. Fr. David Boettner, Rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Ibrahim hopes educating the public will provided much needed help for the religious refugees.
"Any immigrant without any resources needs the help of others," he said.
Members of ICIN said more Chaldean Catholics are expected to arrive in Knoxville soon.