Elevation of Chaldean patriarch highlights plight of Iraqi Christians
"Whole neighborhoods have been emptied of Christians. It is a real ethnic cleansing."
By Carol Glatz
November 24, 2007 Iraq (CNS) -- 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.
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 CNS 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."