WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has appointed Father Frank Kalabat, pastor of St. Thomas Chaldean Parish in the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield, Michigan, and director of vocations for the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, as the eparchy's new bishop.
Bishop-designate Kalabat, who turns 44 on May 13, will succeed Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim, whose resignation was accepted by the pope. His episcopal ordination will take place June 14 at Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church in Southfield.
The appointment and retirement were announced May 3 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican's nuncio to the United States.
Bishop-designate Kalabat was born in Kuwait and grew up in San Diego. He began studies for the seminary at St. Francis De Sales Center in San Diego, and pursued theological studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1995.
His assignments after ordination included associate pastor of Mother of God Parish in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Michigan, 1995-2001, and, from 2001 until his episcopal appointment, pastor of St. Thomas Parish, director of vocations and director of the Center for Re-Evangelization.
Bishop Ibrahim, the founding bishop of the eparchy with its establishment in 1982, has long been an advocate for the Chaldean population, both in its historical home in the Middle East -- principally Iraq -- and in the diaspora.
In 2009, despite the prospects for peace in Iraq after years of war there, he voiced his doubts that many Chaldeans now in America would return. "No one in the United States will go back to Iraq or the Middle East because the future for children, (opportunities for) education and life are better here," Bishop Ibrahim said.
By the same token, he noted in 2008, those remaining in Iraq "are all in danger. They never know if they will be killed or kidnapped today or tomorrow," Bishop Ibrahim said. "To be honest, we don't see any future for the Christians in the Arab countries. Not only Iraq, even Syria, even Lebanon, even Egypt."
Also in 2008, Bishop Ibrahim said the United States must be held accountable for the death of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, who had been kidnapped.
"Somebody has to be responsible," the bishop said. "Since the Americans are occupying Iraq, they have the responsibility of the security of every Iraqi, and in the first place minorities. I am not saying the Christians only -- but they are doing nothing for them."
"We know that before the invasion of the Americans in Iraq, (terrorism) was no such a thing," Bishop Ibrahim added. "Christians and Muslims were living together, exactly like brothers and sisters, and that's it. But since the invasion, everything changes." He had, the year before, called on the United States to withdraw from Iraq after four years of warfare there.
In 2007, Bishop Ibrahim credited Chaldean Catholics for leading a boycott against Miller Brewing Co. for promoting an event with a poster sending up Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" that mocked religious sensibilities. The boycott ended with a pledge by Miller to never repeat the episode.
In metropolitan Detroit, Chaldean Catholics own about 2,000 convenience stores -- about 90 percent of the total of the area's independent neighborhood stores that sell food and other items, including alcoholic beverages.
Bishop Ibrahim, in 1999, said churches outside the Middle East can provide moral, financial and political support to the mother churches. He said support on policy matters, like that given to the churches in the Holy Land and in Lebanon, can contribute to stabilizing conditions in the region and to stemming the tide of emigration. In the past 15 years since his comments, though, the percentage of Christians in the Middle East has continued to dwindle.
There are an estimated 150,000 Catholics in the eparchy. Its jurisdiction extends to the eastern states of the United States. Seven of its nine parishes, as well as its headquarters and a mission, are located in Michigan.