Beirut (AsiaNews) – “The Holy Father has granted an honour to His Beatitude, Patriarch Emmanuel Delly, by appointing him cardinal. But the honour is also for the entire Church in Iraq, so tried by these days of persecution, emigration, kidnappings and insecurity,” said Mgr Michel Kassarji, Chaldean bishop of Beirut, as he spoke to AsiaNews about Benedict XVI’s announcement that the patriarch of Baghdad would be elevated to the dignity of cardinal. Patriarch Delly, who is currently in Beirut for a meeting of Middle Eastern patriarchs, will be the first cardinal from Iraq.
“It is a privilege for him and the Church. He is suffering like all of Iraq’s Christians. He has received death threats; his church has been attacked; he has been forced to stand by, looking on as his faithful leave and emigrate,” said Mgr Kassarji.
“It is a great honour,” said a Chaldean nun in Baghdad. “I think that this appointment is the Pope’s way of showing his paternal care for Iraqi Christians and the population. People are living in misery, neglect, insecurity and violence. We need witnesses and fathers who can take care of our destiny.”
Emmanuel III Delly, 80 years celebrated on October 6, comes from Tel Keppe (Telkaif), northern Iraq. In 1952 he was ordained priest in the Chaldean Church and ten years later, on December 16, 1962, he became bishop. In 1967 he was elevated to the post of archbishop even though under the preceding patriarch he was still auxiliary bishop of Baghdad.
In December 2003, he was elected Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldeans, replacing Mgr Rophael Bidawid I, who had died in July of that year. This put to an end an impasse at the time when choosing a patriarch was a particularly delicate step given Iraq’s situation under US occupation and strong internal tensions, which resurfaced again during the synod of the Chaldean Church last June.
The Chaldean community is ancient and spread around the world, from the United States and Canada to Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria, altogether some 1.5 million members. But for thousands of years Iraq has been its heartland, home to about 800,000 Chaldeans at least until 2003, with the Patriarchate centred in Baghdad.
The vicious persecution that Christians are experiencing in Iraq has forced many families to leave. At present, unofficially only 200,000 Chaldeans are left in the country.
After a long period of silence the leader of the Chaldean Church responded in May to the appeals made by Iraq’s bishops and clergy and made his own plea, calling for an end to the “internal and external persecution” that Christians are enduring in Iraq.
He pleaded with political leaders not to just look on at what is happening, and used harsh words against US troops, telling them that “God is not pleased with what you are doing to our country.”