NEW CHALDEAN CARDINALPope Benedict XVI grasps the hands of Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad during the consistory Nov. 24. The Chaldean patriarch was among 23 churchmen who joined the College of Cardinals.
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. 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. Speaking to CNS through a translator, 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."