Baghdad (AsiaNews) - "For the Chaldean Church, this is a day of mourning and prayer so that the soul (of the patriarch emeritus) may rest in peace. However, it is also a day of remembrance to think about what he went through and suffered during these years," said Mar Raphael I Louis Sako as he paid tribute to Patriarch Emeritus Emmanuel III Delly, who passed away last night at a hospital in San Diego (United States) at the age of 87.
Cardinal Delly, Patriarch Sako told AsiaNews, lived "more than 60 years as a priest, and 50 years as bishop and patriarch, always serving the Church in Iraq. Although the situation was very critical, he managed to stay true to his people and country".
As the guide of the Chaldean Church, Mar Sako noted, the patriarch emeritus lived through what for the Chaldean Christian minority and the nation of Iraq was one of their most difficult historical and political periods. "Even if he could perform miracles, he was always able to encourage the faithful in a really bad situation. He really suffered a lot from the wars and the emigration" of Christians.
For the current Patriarch, his greatest merit was to "remain faithful to the office of pastor and care for his people. Despite a very difficult situation, he remained in Iraq and never thought of escaping or shirking his responsibilities."
In many cases, he acted in person "to pay the ransom for kidnapped priests" when abducting Christians, even and especially clergymen, became commonplace.
We must learn from the life and trials of people like Patriarch Delly, who "managed to remain faithful to [the mission] even in very exceptional times".
Mar Sako said that a requiem mass would be celebrated in the coming days at St Joseph Chaldean Cathedral in Baghdad, whilst the funeral will most likely take place in the United States, where most of the cardinal's family had moved.
"For us Iraqi Christians," Patriarch Sako said, "we shall remember Cardinal Delly during the celebrations of the upcoming Holy Week leading to the Easter of Resurrection. This is crucial time to reflect and pray. We have to think, renew, and accept suffering, as Jesus did, to be saved."
Patriarch Emeritus Emmanuel III Delly was born on 27 September 1927, in Telkaif, Archeparchy of Mosul of the Chaldeans, and was baptised on 6 October of the same year.
He graduated in theology from the Pontifical Urbaniana University and in canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University. He also obtained a licentiate in philosophy from Urbaniana.
Ordained as a priest on 21 December 1952 by Cardinal Pietro Fumasoni Biondi in Rome, at the Pontifical Urban College of Propaganda Fide, he returned to Baghdad as secretary to the Patriarch on 30 December 1960.
He was elected to the titular see of Paleopolis of Asia on 7 December 1962 as the auxiliary to Patriarch Paul II Cheikho, receiving his Episcopal ordination on 19 April 1963.
In that same year, as a bishop, he became a member of the Second Vatican Council, in which he had first participated as an expert.
In October 2002, he resigned as auxiliary bishop because of age limits, but a little over a year later, a few days after the capture of Saddam Hussein, on 3 December 2003, he was elected patriarch of Babylon by the bishops of the Chaldean Church.
His ministry was a time ruled by violence and terror, by the exodus of the Iraqi Christian minority, which lost half of its population following the US military intervention. This period brought death and destruction and left the country in serious trouble.
With it came bloody attacks on churches in Baghdad and Mosul, the kidnapping of priests and bishops, and the targeted killings of many Catholics.
On 19 December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation from the pastoral government of the Chaldean Church. His successor, Mar Raphael I Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, was elected on 30 January of the following year.