â€śThirty years ago, there were just 10 Chaldean priests in the United States; now there are 40,â€ť Bishop Ibrahim observed, adding that some of those now are American vocations.
In that same period, the Chaldean population of the U.S. has grown from about 20,000 to about 220,000, with about 150,000 of those living in the territory of the Southfield-based Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, the diocese for Chaldean Catholics living in approximately the eastern half of the United States.
The Chaldean Church is one of the eastern Churches in union with Rome. Its members are descendants of the ancient indigenous people of Iraq from before the country was mostly overwhelmed by the invasion of Muslim Arabs.
Bishop Ibrahim was ordained to the episcopate March 7, 1982, in Baghdad, to head the newly created Apostolic Exarchate of the United States of America (Chaldean), which then became the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in 1985, with jurisdiction over the whole country.
By 2002, there were enough Chaldeans in the western United States to form a new diocese, the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, which now has about 70,000 people.
Each of the dioceses has eight men studying for the priesthood, all of those for the St. Thomas Eparchy studying at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.
In addition, Bishop Ibrahim noted there is now a community of Daughters of Mary Immaculate, a Chaldean order, with 12 sisters and six novices.
But he has also seen a change in the Chaldean community. Early Chaldean immigrants to the United States mostly went into small business, and Chaldeans today operate about 2,000 groceries and liquor stores in Metro Detroit.
Now, though, Bishop Ibrahim said there are also more than 400 Chaldean physicians in the area, as well as lawyers, engineers and other business professionals, and the children of immigrants are almost all going for higher education.
More important than their economic activities, in Bishop Ibrahimâ€™s view, is what his people are doing to preserve their faith, language and culture among their children.
â€śChaldeans are much better about that now than 30 years ago. Almost all of the children speak Chaldean, and they are doing much better about keeping our traditions and unity,â€ť he said.
For Chaldeans who would prefer it, the Divine Liturgy is now also offered in English, he said.
A native of the town of Telkaif, about eight miles northeast of Mosul (ancient Nineveh) â€” as are a majority of local Chaldeans â€” Bishop Ibrahim studied for the priesthood first at the Chaldean seminary in Mosul, and then at the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris. He was ordained to the priesthood Dec. 30, 1962, in Baghdad.
His assignments included professor of dogmatic theology and then rector of the Chaldean Major Seminary in Baghdad, and pastor of a Baghdad parish.
Bp. Ibrahim was sent to Telkaif in 1970 to establish a new seminary college for the Archdiocese of Mosul.
He left Iraq in 1972 for Rome, where he studied at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum), earning a doctorate in theology in 1975.
He returned to Baghdad as a pastor, but was assigned in 1978 as pastor of St. Peter (Chaldean) Parish in San Diego, Calif.
A year later, he founded St. Paul (Chaldean) Parish in Los Angeles.
His appointment by Pope John Paul II to be the first Chaldean bishop for the United States was announced Jan. 22, 1982.
Bishop Ibrahim speaks and writes Chaldean (related to ancient Aramaic), Arabic, English, French and Italian.
Because of the danger and discrimination Chaldeans still in Iraq face at the hands of Iraqâ€™s Muslim majority â€” including the murder of the archbishop of Mosul â€” Bishop Ibrahim said he expects the exodus of Chaldeans from their historic homeland to continue.