Vatican City – Hundreds and hundreds of Chaldeans traveled across the world to Rome to witness the appointment of the Chaldean Patriarch to a Vatican Cardinal. Chaldeans across the globe glued to Nour Sat and EWTN to watch the world televised ceremony.
When Pope Benedict XVI placed a red hat on Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad during a Nov. 24 consistory in St. Peter's Basilica, he was honoring not just the patriarch of the Chaldean church, but was elevating the plight of Iraqi Christians to the world's attention.
The pope "told me 'I hope this gesture will be a sign of reconciliation not only among the people, but especially among Sunnis, Shiites and Christians, because Iraq is a country dear to me,'" the patriarch told reporters during a Nov. 23 press conference after a meeting of cardinals and cardinals-designate with the pope.
During the Nov. 24 consistory, Pope Benedict said in his homily that elevating the Chaldean leader was a way of "concretely expressing my spiritual closeness and my affection" for Iraq's Christian minorities.
"They are experiencing in their own flesh the dramatic consequences of an enduring conflict and now live in a fragile and delicate political situation," the pope said.
In reference to Cardinal Delly, the Chaldean patriarch, the Pope spoke of “Iraq’s dear Christian communities”. “These brothers and sisters in the faith are feeling with their own flesh the dramatic consequences of an enduring conflict. By calling the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church to enter into the College of Cardinals – he added – I intend to my spiritual closeness and affection for that population. Let us together reaffirm the solidarity of the whole Church with the Christians of that beloved land and invoke from the merciful God the coming of longed-for reconciliation and peace for all the peoples involved”. Shortly before, Card. Sandri had also evoked the “tears and blood” and the “painful exodus of the many Christians from which Abraham once departed”.
Benedict XVI reminded all of the newly created cardinals that “every true disciple of Christ may aspire to one thing only: the sharing of Christ’s passion, without any claim to recompense. The Christian is called to assume the condition of the servant, following in the footsteps of Jesus that is, freely and disinterestedly spending his whole life for others. It is not the quest for power and success, but the humble gift of self for the good of the Church that must characterise all our actions and every one of our words. True Christian greatness consists not in domination, but in service”.
Dear brothers in becoming part of the College of Cardinals, God asks of you and entrusts you the service of love: love for God, for His Church, for your brothers and sisters with the maximum dedication, "usque ad sanguinis effusionem" ["even to the shedding of your blood"], as the formula for the imposition of the biretta reads and as the crimson colour of your vestments show. You are the Apostles of God who is Love and witnesses of evangelical hope: this is what the Christian community expects from you”.
Among the thousands of pilgrims crammed inside the basilica were hundreds of Chaldean Catholics from Iraq, Syria, Jordan, the United States and Europe. Pilgrims who did not get inside the standing-room-only ceremony in the basilica watched in St. Peter's Square. One large group waved two immense Iraqi flags, devoid of Arabic script, cheering and ululating loudly when the pope announced their patriarch's name.
Chaldean Father Basel Yaldo, 37, was among those who came to Rome to see his patriarch elevated. Father Yaldo was kidnapped for three days in September 2006, just after Pope Benedict's controversial remarks about Islam in Regensburg, Germany, inflamed part of the Muslim world. Death threats against the priest were so serious that he was transferred from Baghdad to a parish in Michigan.
Jerry Yono, a Chaldean businessman in Southfield, Mich., said Father Yaldo had been beaten so badly by his captors that he was unable to walk properly for a long time.
"He's only just now back to normal," Yono said.
Father Yaldo said Nov. 23 that he had not been kidnapped for money, but that his abductors instead "had some conditions."
Yono said one of the conditions was to tell Cardinal Delly that all Christians were to leave Iraq.
Father Yaldo said his and his family's lives had been threatened and that it was still too dangerous for him to return to Iraq, where his family remains.
"They cannot afford to leave, they can't get visas, and if they leave their house will be taken away" by Muslims, he said.
Cardinal Delly said he would stay in Iraq and continue to lobby political and religious leaders to work together to create peace and improve security in the country.
He said that now when he travels abroad as cardinal he "will try to convince everyone who left the country to return to Iraq and work to build Iraq together."
But some Iraqis who have left the country have no intention of returning, said Joseph T. Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, based in Farmington Hills, Mich.
"They have a lot of bad memories, they are penniless, their houses have been taken over," he told reporters in Rome. "Whole neighborhoods have been emptied of Christians. It is a real ethnic cleansing."
Kassab said the situation was so dangerous in Basra that the pope moved his brother, Chaldean Archbishop Djibrail Kassab, to head the Australian Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Sydney.
Cardinal Delly said Iraq's prime minister, president and parliament all sent delegations to the consistory. Political representatives included members of the Shiite-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council -- one of Iraq's largest and most powerful political parties -- and emissaries of Iraq's regional Kurdish government.
He said Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Kurds, Christians and other religious and ethnic representatives were in attendance to pay witness to the Iraqi government's desire "that we are still in a united Iraq and that I will continue to serve (my country) with all my strength to the last drop of my blood."
The 20-member government delegation was headed by the minister of human rights, Wijdan Mikhail Salim, a Chaldean Catholic who said she hoped Cardinal Delly's elevation "will be for the good of all of Iraq."
She said her government "does not want the Christians to leave;" they want all groups to live together harmoniously and are "trying to improve security for all people."
She said the government wanted to thank the pope for bringing the world's attention to Iraq through Cardinal Delly's elevation. She said the Catholic Church has always tried to remind people of Iraq's need for help, and she praised it because "it supports all Iraqi people, not just Christians."
Despite churches, mosques and religious leaders often being a target of bombings and kidnappings, Salim said the conflict in Iraq "is not a religious civil war."
She said criminals, terrorists and other groups were hiding behind religious symbols "for some political aims."