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from issue no. 06/07 - 2007

IRAQ. The appeal of the Patriarch of Baghdad to Christians

«We will remain in this country which is our native land»

Meeting with His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans: «I continue to pray all politicians, that they favor peace in Iraq. Also the mass media can do a great deal, not discrediting this or that group. Good news encourages our people to remain in this country, that is our native land, where I personally will remain, until the last drop of my blood, to give courage to the Chaldean faithful»

Interview with the Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly by Giovanni Cubeddu

Rome, 21 June last. «In this hour of authentic martyrdom for the name of Christ». With these words Pope Benedict XVI indicated the measure of his total participation in the tragic fate of the Iraqi people and Christians. He had before him, at the assembly of the ROACO (the Reunion of the Works for Aid to the Eastern Churches), the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Emmanuel III Delly, in Rome, after having presided over the last Synod of the Chaldean bishops. The audience had understood that the judgment of the Pope on the Iraqi tragedy was equivalent to full support of the Patriarch and his way of operating as head and shepherd of the Chaldeans.
By now for some months the Christians in Iraq are victims of a particular fury on the part of terrorist and criminal groups, in Baghdad in particular, but not only. On 3 June last in Mosul, Father Ragheed Ganni, a Chaldean priest, and three of his helpers were caught up by a command that killed them without saying a word. «Without Sunday, without the Eucharist, we cannot live» Father Ganni repeated when he spoke about the Iraqi Christians, taking up a phrase of the first Christians. The death of Father Ganni is only a small piece in the painful mosaic of Iraq, that many, both within and without the Chaldean Church, rush to interpret with varying degrees of intelligence (or sincerity). Is it enough to cry out at the responsibilities of Muslims in order to read what is happening to the Iraqi Christians in an appropriate key? The first one to doubt this is the Chaldean Patriarch himself, for the good of his Church itself. What you will read is the fruit of a long conversation with 30Days that took place the day before the ROACO assembly. The next day the words of Pope Benedict will certainly have relieved and lightened him of many weights borne with judgment, in faithful silence.

Emmanuel III Delly

Emmanuel III Delly

The Iraqi tragedy doesn’t hint minimally at attenuating itself. Perhaps only after the killing of Father Ragheed Ganni is it realized once again that the Chaldean Church also is paying a very high price. What does the Patriarch say about this?
EMMANUEL III DELLY: Instead of asking what the Chaldean Patriarch thinks, it is better to ask oneself once again what is happening in Iraq, to all, Christian or Muslims... It is true, however, that in these past months the life of Christians has got worse, notwithstanding that it was already tragic for Iraqis of any faith, Christians, Muslims, Mandeists, Yazidis... The government cannot do anything, because there are some people who do not want the good of Iraq as such. And I ask myself if these are authentic Iraqis who do not want the good of Iraq. I don’t know. But I know that a car bomb mows down Christians, Muslims, Mandeists and Yazidis without distinction. And I know that fear reigns in the spirit of every Iraqi today: the sun rises and nobody knows whether he will see it set.
How has the increasing cruelty towards the Christians in these last months been manifested?
DELLY: Until now we have all lived within the settling of accounts between Sunnites and Shiites, that continues. Now, who these violent fanatics are in conscience I don’t know, I don’t know these terrorists. And not even the government knows. The Christians lived in peace in Iraq before Islam’s arrival, it was they who received the Muslims, and continued living in peace with them, because all drew a common advantage from that. But today this is not enough anymore. In Baghdad and Mosul especially, and then in Kirkuk or Bassora, since some months it happens that these groups of violent people knock at Christians’ doors and initially demand that they pay a sum as a “fine”, sometimes forcing all the family to declare publicly that they are converted to Islam, then forcing the father of the family to grant immediately a daughter in “betrothal” to one of the young people of the gang and finally ordering them to abandon the house, just as it is, and to leave the country «because this is not your native land!». Lately hundreds of Christian families have been induced by force to emigrate, and various dozens have been forced to convert to Islam. And then there are the kidnappings: up to now, that I know of, many of those among the kidnapped who have not wanted to be converted, have been killed.
This is our life. Our people are unhappy, they don’t know what to do anymore.
These terrorist groups then represent the face of Islam in Iraq?
DELLY: No. They are Muslims only in name. The true Islam is what leads to loving one’s neighbor, to doing good to others, following the natural principles of the fraternal love and of their sacred book. These instead do not love Islam, do not love Iraq, they seek only their own interests. We pray for them.
Escape seems the only way.
DELLY: Many have fled to the north of Iraq, the villages of origin of their fathers, but... to do what, without roots anymore and without the possibility of work? At least, and we thank the Lord for it, in the Iraqi Kurdistan a great benefactor lives, the Minister of Finance and first acting minister Sarkis Aghajan, who in these three years has had seven thousand houses built for the Christians immigrants and has supplied them free of charge, along with the minimum of money in order to survive. But what will the Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan do, if there is no work, if there are no businesses that employ them? They will remain foreigners, also in their new houses in the north...
Other Iraqi Christians, as by now millions of their co-nationals, have decided to emigrate elsewhere.
DELLY: To Syria, to Jordan, to Lebanon... or Europe... But to obtain the entrance visa for the European Union is prohibitive for an Iraqi: they are not granted. And so pain is added to pain. So, I pray the whole world, all the governors who have power to do something, to contribute to the return of peace in Iraq, not only for the Christians, but also for the poor Muslims who suffer like us: because their families are exposed in the same identical way to these fanatics who use the abuse of power in order to earn easy money.
The day before the funeral of Father Ragheed Ganni, another Chaldean clergyman was already seized.
DELLY: They have kidnapped clergymen and Christian religious, demanding mountains of dollars of ransom every time, and up to now they have killed three: a Protestant, an Orthodox and finally our Ragheed Ganni. Poor Father Ragheed, he finished celebrating mass and was leaving the church with his three assistants, three sub-deacons. He took the car in order to go home and was stopped. They ordered him to raise his hands and without saying even a word to him they fired at him. After the murder of Father Ragheed, as you know, another clergyman was kidnapped, with four of his assistants. They were only freed because this time we paid the ransom for all.
How do you generally behave in these cases?
DELLY: And what can we ever do? If the ransom that they impose on us is of hundreds of thousands of dollars, where will we get them? We don’t have them. The more well-off Chaldean faithful have already fled the country, and by now only the poor or very poor ones remain, of whom we can certainly ask nothing, because it is we who give them what to survive on. So, what do we offer to these bandits from whom we receive threats? «Either pay or you will find a corpse along the road that belongs to you!» This phrase represents the Iraq of today.
An armed guard in front of a church on Easter Sunday, in Kirkuk, Iraq

An armed guard in front of a church on Easter Sunday, in Kirkuk, Iraq

It is a picture of desolation.
DELLY: But, despite all of this, we are and remain children of hope, because we hope in the Lord that these black clouds we will soon pass, so as to have peace in our country again and to return to seeing the sun. As Christians and, even before, as Iraqis.
Beatitude, and the public authorities?
DELLY: Someone once asked me if all that happens is the fault of the government and I answered: «Yes, if a government existed». But it is not so, because in Iraq chaos rules, genuine chaos, and today who “governs” has no power. Rather, it is the politicians who ask for protection... And the Americans can’t do anything, they say to us: «It’s not our job», «it’s not our business». Then whose is the guilt? Of the Americans who occupied us. Of our government – if it existed – and of every powerful force in the world that would also have the power to say an influential word in order to restrain this terrorism, that in Iraq has everyone in its sights, Muslim and Christian, and today especially the Christians.
Already once publicly Pope Benedict has asked of all prayers and fast for Iraq.
DELLY: And I continue to pray all politicians, that they favor peace in Iraq. Also the mass media can do a great deal, spreading constructive news and not discrediting this or that group. Good news encourages our people to remain in this country, which is our native land, where I personally will remain, until the last drop of my blood, to give courage to the Chaldean faithful. They remain, as our fathers and our grandfathers remained who also overcame difficult circumstances. I say to them: remain, have confidence in the Lord, and our heavenly mother Mary who will protect us. I encourage my dear faithful to remain, because I will be with them, here, until the last drop of my blood, if the Lord wants me a martyr.
Are you meeting with the religious heads of the Shiites and Sunnites?
DELLY: I have never stopped speaking with them, with all of them... so that peace may be given back to the country and now, particularly, to the Christians. But they, like me, are currently incapable of doing anything. From the President of Iraq down to the last person of my people, I have not left anybody without having directed a prayer to them so that they contribute to bringing back the peace. And I ask all Christians to pray the Lord so that he may be with us, and that He Himself who is peace gives peace back to Iraq, the country of Abraham.
It was written that in your last Synod the possibility for Christians of living in protected, reserved, areas was discussed.
DELLY: We want Iraq for the Iraqis, because we are sons of one sole family; we are not looking for some “ghetto” for the Christians. We have, as Iraqis, different names, but we have the same father Abraham and the same native land. The land unites us. It is our land from the beginning! Against every division, provided that the faith of everyone is respected. There, religion for everyone and a native land for all. This is my idea: all of Iraq is for all the Iraqis. We do not have to choose a “Christian corner” and hide ourselves there, since always, as Christians, we have cooperated for the development of our beautiful native land.
No Christian has ever wanted to react to the violence?
DELLY: Christians must never think of reacting with force, we do not use weapons. I could never advise it. Jesus said: «Pray for those who do not love you, for those who persecute and calumniate you». He Himself taught us so, and we have confidence that He will help us! As the person responsible for my Christians, I will never tell them to act with force, but to accept everything and to pray also for their own enemies.
And to react politically, that is like an organized movement of Christians and to put pressure on the authorities? The bishops would have therefore more of a say in politics...
DELLY: But how can Christians think of obtaining an answer in this situation, creating their own small political lobby, when no one now has the real power to change things? We entrust our hearts and desires to the Lord.
In this regard allow me to add one last thing.
DELLY: I have confidence that 30Days speaks about things as they are, that it publishes not just for its own interests but for the good of souls and the salvation of the world. Other journalists have done evil to the Chaldeans, publishing news that they have invaded the field of the Church, procuring moral, spiritual and political damage to the Iraqi Christians. The Chaldean Church has been and will be pacific, it will only do good to all, as our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us.
At prayer in a Chaldean church in the Central quarter of Baghdad

At prayer in a Chaldean church in the Central quarter of Baghdad

When you saw President Bush make a visit to Pope Benedict in June, what did you feel?
DELLY: I thought: we hope that President Bush does what he expressed in words, that is use all his power to bring peace to the world. Not only in Iraq, but in Palestine, Lebanon... We only hope that he puts into practice what he promised to the Pope.
Beatitude, for the Christians in Iraq today would you use the term “persecution”?
DELLY: Yes. We have had many dead, poor people... Our daily suffering is our martyrdom – and some among us have shed our blood in order to defend our faith. We suffer because we carry the name of Christians. Hundreds of Christian families are ejected with violence. Is this martyrdom or not?
In Iraq we have coexisted with Islam for fourteen centuries, I myself in the past would not have known how to distinguish externally between Sunnites and Shiites, or indeed between Muslims and Christians: today instead it is a tremendous dividing line. The Muslims of before wanted to acquire their house close to that of a Christian, so great was the harmony – and perhaps in their heart it is still like that. But now something has changed. For this I ask you to pray, and to make the others pray so that the Lord grants this spirit of charity, of brotherhood, of mutual love. Not only in Iraq, but in the Middle East, and at this point all over the world.

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