A bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, Bishop Ashur Soro later decided to join the Catholic church due to his overwhelming belief. In 2014, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Ashur Soro titular bishop of Foraziana. Bishop Ashur Soro resides in the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Saint Peter the Apostle. Both the Assyrian Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church have experienced destruction of their cultural heritage in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq.
In late November 2016, Pope Francis voiced his support for an international event held last December 2-3, 2016, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Conference was organized by the UAE and France under the patronage of UNESCO. The aim of the event is for the preservation and protection of mankind’s endangered cultural heritage from the devastation brought about by armed conflict.
In attendance at various sessions of the two-day conference were foreign heads of states, prime ministers, and UAE leaders. The worldwide gathering brought together more than 40 countries that have experienced heritage loss due to conflict as well as important figures involved in world heritage protection.
At its conclusion, the conference produced the Abu Dhabi Declaration, in which a statement included support for a $100 million international fund to help finance emergency and preventive measures to combat illegal trade of cultural artifacts. The fund will also be used to assist in restoring damaged cultural property.
After serving as the Bishop of the Western U.S. of the Assyrian Church of the East and attempting to bring the Assyrian Church back into full communion with the Catholic Church, Bishop Ashur Soro joined the Catholic Church himself, along with 3 priests, more than 30 deacons and subdeacons, and about 3,000 laypeople. In January 2014, Pope Francis appointed Ashur Soro the bishop of the titular see of Foraziana, in the service of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Saint Peter the Apostle.
A titular see refers to a formerly flourishing diocese of the Catholic Church that died out or no longer remains active, often due to government restriction or foreign occupation. These dioceses lack clergy as well as a congregation.
The head of the Catholic Church, the Pope, reserves jurisdiction over titular sees for himself. Often, the Pope appoints a bishop to serve as the head of a titular see when the bishop has no diocese of his own. The titular bishop then serves his see by the delegated authority and jurisdiction of the Pope.
A bishop who receives a titular see need not live in that diocese. He will frequently reside elsewhere, performing some administrative or ecclesiastical service for the Vatican, while retaining the title of titular bishop as a sign of his leadership.
Ashur Soro has served as the titular bishop of Foraziana and a vicar general for the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Saint Peter the Apostle in El Cajon, California, since January 2014. As a vicar general, Ashur Soro is the principle representative of the Diocesan Bishop at parishes throughout his diocese.
Vicar generals rank directly below bishops in the overall hierarchy of the Catholic Church. These church leaders are mostly priests, but also bishops, who serve on behalf of the diocesan bishop to support both clergy and members of each parish. There are some restrictions on what vicar generals can do; the canon law of the Catholic Church assigns some specific tasks that are the sole responsibility of bishops.
Generally speaking, there is only one vicar general appointed for any Catholic diocese or archdiocese, and there are strict qualifications that individuals must meet in order to fill this role. The requirements include being 25 years old, being knowledgeable in canon law, and having no blood relationship with the bishop of their diocese.
Assyrian and Chaldean Traditions
Having served for many years as a bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East in California, Ashur Soro began to see the similarities between his tradition and the branch of Catholicism called the Chaldean Church. For his attempts to encourage his followers to accept the primacy of the pope and united with the Chaldean Church, he was suspended from the Assyrian church in 2005. In 2014, however, Bishop Ashur Soro was embraced by Pope Francis, who appointed him in the Chaldean Church, with the titular see of Foraziana.
The (Assyrian) Church of the East is one of the oldest versions of Christianity, having originated in the first centuries CE with the Mesopotamian-Babylonian tradition. This Church is also sometimes referred to as the “Nestorian” church”, the Persian church, or the Syrian church.
The Chaldean tradition was created in the 16th century when a group of the Church of the East bishops and members broke away to join the Roman Catholic church in acknowledgement of the primacy of the pope.
Despite the similarities between the Assyrian and Chaldean churches, the two Christian traditions remain separate. For some Assyrians, joining the Chaldean church provides an opportunity for greater unity within the Catholic church. For others, however, maintaining independence in the Assyrian tradition is an important way to honor a shared cultural and historical past.