I Am Not Here For The Catholics Or To Steal Their Members, Says Musallam
ARCHBISHOP Ramzi Musallam is the spiritual head of the Catholic Church of the East. While here in Nigeria recently, he dedicated some churches including St. Michael, the Archangel Catholic Church of the East in Aba, Abia State, the Holy Family Adoration ground and the Marian grotto built by Rev. Fr. Modestus Chiedozie Chilaka, and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church of the East, Obiohuru in Isiala Mbano in Imo State. The Archbishop also administered the sacrament of Confirmation on some parishioners and gave awards and scholarships to some students and deserving members of the church. Highpoint of the event was the conferment of a BA degree in Theology from the St. James University USA on Fr. Chilaka and his additional conferment as the Vicar General of the Church. He spoke to journalists in Lagos on why he was in Nigeria and STELLA MARIS-TEMISANREN was there.
What is the importance of your visit to Nigeria?
I AM here on a pastoral visit, to minister the sacrament of confirmation to God’s people here in Nigeria. We need peace in the Catholic Church, as well as here in Africa, the United States and the whole world. There is need to continue to emphasise peace, as all religions uphold God’s love and the need for peace. And so, I urge that all religious leaders, including the Muslims bring the love that God has given us. I lived with Muslims and they are peaceful people. We don’t want to create the situation or impression that will make people to say the world is in trouble because of the Muslims. No, there are good Muslims. But we cannot say that all the evil in this world is from Muslims only, as it is from all other religions as well. If everyone can uphold their faith and love their people and their God, then we will have peace. But you must exercise your faith and be proud of who you are. We pray for peace in Africa and for God’s peace to be with all of us. Why were the apostles here 2000 years ago? They brought the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is here. If Jesus Christ’s gospel is here, then I expect more love, understanding and peace. And when we have all this, then we will have unity among the Christians, Muslims and everybody around us.
I am also here because of our priest, Fr. Chiedozie Chilaka. A man, whom God is using to heal the sick, needs our support. When you see something like this among the brothers, other priests and pastors may say because he is not of the Roman Catholic Church, he is not valid; but that’s not true. God is valid and powerful no matter whom you are and He works miracles through the Muslims, as well as through Christians. God has been working miracles through a lot of those anointed in Jesus name. So, I am here because I am his Archbishop, to support him and visit my people whom I shepherd.
I live and work in the United States. I am in the Middle East project and I go to the White House and Washington a lot.
Also, I am in charge of flight 93 September 11, where a plane crashed into a property owned by the Catholic Church of the East. So, God has been using us to bring peace to Christians and everybody in the world. I am happy to support our priest, congregation and everyone in need of peace and reconciliation.
I have a good relationship with Archbishop Obinna, who has a large following and so became a threat to some people. I am the spiritual head of the Catholic Church of the East. I am not a pope, as we don’t call our spiritual head a pope. There are five major patriarchs of the Church, which the apostles instituted after the day of Pentecost. We have the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Patriarch of Antioch, the Patriarch of Rome, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Patriarch of Alexandria.
For us to be called Catholic, we have to be consecrated by one of them. So, the Roman Catholic founded our holy church and I received consecration from a Roman Catholic Archbishop in Brazil. That is why we are Catholics, because we came from one of them. But we have good relationship with the patriarchs and I will be going to see the patriarch of Russia, who is in communion with Constantinople.
But why Catholic Church of the East and not just the Catholic Church?
Roman is an ethnicity. There are Nigerian Catholic Church and Arabic Catholic Church. We are the Arabic Catholic Church. In America, we use the word east because Jesus Christ’s gospel came to us from the east. From the east, we undertake the sign of the cross and from the east, our faith came about. So, we look to the east. Every Catholic parish is supposed to look to the east. Our Muslim brothers also look to the east, when praying. So, the east is significant to all of us.
Is there any clear-cut difference between your church and the Roman Catholic Church?
The only difference is just for us to hand over our property to the Pope. Our faith is the same thing. We also practise the same sacrament, and though we don’t have the Pope, but we pray for him at mass. I once said to the Pope when I met him: ‘we are one with you in faith’. But in administration we are not, which means our money and properties are separate. If, for instance, you want to belong to the patriarch of Constantinople, you have to give your properties and wealth to him. Then you can be accepted. The same applies if you want to be under the Pope. The Catholic Church of the East does not reject the Holy Father. We love the Pope of Rome. We love the Roman Catholic bishops and we are Catholics because we uphold the teachings of the holy church.
Let me tell you something else. Our church is Arabic, which as you know, is being rejected. In America, we have a lot of prejudice. The same way the blacks were being prejudiced against in America is the way our people are being treated. When September 11 happened, our people were killed. American Police officers killed some Arabic people. Some Arabic homes were burnt in Chicago. So, the Arabic people called upon me to lead them in the faith.
Our people are also being persecuted in the Middle East. When they came to America and saw Irish Catholics persecuting the Arabic people, they asked me: “can you lead us”? So, I obeyed my people’s call. They elected me as the first Bishop and then a Catholic Bishop from a Roman Catholic Church in Brazil consecrated me. Now, the Catholic Church of the East is Arabic. It is sad that we have to go that way because of the rejection by other ethnicities.
In America, you have the German and Irish bishops, but there is no Arabic Catholic bishop. Even the Spanish people in America are becoming Protestants. We had to be bold enough to take the needed steps to keep our faith. With enlightenment, people are now trying to understand and accept us as Catholics. Arabic Christians think that everybody is Muslim. Why the Catholic of the East? It is because the Catholic Church did not only come from Rome. The problem is that people think Rome is the eternal city. But it isn’t; Jerusalem is.
We are the Catholic Church of the East because we are the truth of the church and we want to uphold the teachings of the holy church. Again, I am in communion with the four patriarchs, including the Bishop of Rome.
How would you react, if the Roman Catholic Church asks people not to associate with your church?
If they say that, it is because they don’t know us. In America, we have the best relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. If you ask Nigerian priests about us, they won’t speak well of us, yet, they call themselves Christians. I remember one of the priests here saying that we are fake; that we are not Roman Catholic Church. But if our church is fake, then everybody is fake. You journalists can go to the bishops and ask them about us. That is all that I can say. I can’t speak for them. All I can tell you is that we are Catholics, we preach Christ, and we preach peace.
Once, Jesus Christ’s apostles went to Him and said: “Master, there are those who are healing people in your name and men who are taking evil out there in your name. And we had to stop them.” But Jesus replied: “If they are for us, they cannot be against us.” So, Jesus Christ’s gospel is not for the Roman Catholic Church alone. It is for everyone who may come to know the Lord Jesus Christ and receive Him. Some Catholic Church’s priests are blocking people from coming in. And Pope John Paul II once said: “Open the door wide into Christ.”
I will be compelled by my works to do the right thing and not because I want to be under the Pope. Not all Nigerians are Catholics. I am not here just for the Catholics, or to steal their members. If you are a Catholic, remain so. If you are a Baptist, remain one. So long you are practising your faith sincerely in Christ, and you let every word that comes out of your mouth reflect the love of Christ, it doesn’t matter the denomination you belong. And we commiserate with and support the northerners in Nigeria, whose blood was shed because of their faith. They have become martyrs. So, if the Roman Catholic Churches are not going to call them martyrs, as other martyrs killed by ISIS, I am here now to declare those who have been killed as martyrs in the holy faith.
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