Chronicles of persecution and Christian life
A meeting with Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of the Chaldeans: “In Iraq we say: ‘To us the homeland, and all the rest for the Lord’. No matter whether my neighbor is Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Shiite; that’s his business, it’s something between him and the Lord. What I must do and what I have to work for is loyalty to the homeland”
Interview with Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of the Chaldeans by Giovanni Cubeddu
In Iraq, where war has also led to persecution, the Patriarch makes no venture into front-page statements. As an Iraqi and as pastor of the largest Christian community in the country, His Beatitude Delly, created cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2007, makes his witness daily. And he leaves us to imagine, without complaint, all the reality (of martyrdom) behind his caution.
Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly celebrating the liturgy in the church of the Virgin Mary in Baghdad [© Associated Press/LaPresse]
EMMANUEL III DELLY: In Iraq there is not a family, not one, that does not have at home a copy of Holy Scripture, the Word of the Lord. What more can we do? Try to live this Word, incarnate it in our lives, as Our Lady did for Elizabeth going to serve her and show her fraternal love. We can read it. Knowing it is not enough, but it can be a help. So, if possible, every day, at least the evening before going to bed, instead of passing two or three hours in front of the television, parents open the Gospel and read the Word of God to their children. Even the little ones will listen and, little by little, put into practice the Word of God in their daily lives. So the Lord will bless us, will give us His thanks, and will help us show the paths that lead to good.
While you were in Rome, and even in the days following, particularly in Mosul, the sectarian violence against Christians broke out again.
DELLY: Not only against Christians ... The news coming from Iraq is not good for any Iraqi. When one doesn’t know from whence the evil is coming, one tries to find the origin but doesn’t find it, and so is always anxious, always sad. That is what is happening to my fellow citizens. In Iraq not a day passes without them having a problem. For me the sun has never set without me having heard bad news or having run into a problem that concerns the welfare of Iraq, not only that of Christians.
There is not only Mosul.
DELLY: What has happened to the Christians of Mosul has been happening for some time elsewhere, and this time has caused simply more din. Many people have had to leave their homes, forced by fear or other more concrete reasons... They saw their neighbors flee to the north and followed them in leaving the city. Surely there is something wrong ... But what? The blame belongs to some people who do not believe in God, they’re neither Muslim or Christian, they believe in nothing outside their own interest and threaten all those who own something or a bit of money. They force them to abandon their homes and leave, and they drive through the streets shouting: “Don’t buy these houses, we’ll have them for free!”.
And that has frightened Christians into fleeing ...
DELLY: Iraqi Christians are generally people who live by their own toil and are slightly better off (and thank the Lord that they work...). So many left, especially when they saw that some had been killed. By whom? We don’t know. I’m not accusing anybody. Many say that the foreign forces are responsible, but I always wonder to myself: “Is it ever possible that the foreigners know that this or that man is well-off, and living in that house, if there is no Iraqi guide with them?” So, I also blame my Iraqi brothers and beg them to love one another.
Do you think that the domestic politics of the country will have the strength to solve the problems in the near future? Or will an outside authority always be necessary?
DELLY: The situation is not stable, so I don’t think we can speak of “domestic politics”. But charity and brotherly love do exist. The Lord has commanded us to love one another: this is our policy, the policy of Christians, whom I urge to love and forgive one another, not least for the good of the country. And to be loyal first and foremost to the Lord and then to the brothers of different origin, with whom we must coexist peacefully. This is our policy, we have no other domestic or foreign policy. Those who try to muddy the waters are not real Iraqis nor people who love their country, and the will of the Lord is even less dear to them.
What could an organized Christian party in the minority do?
DELLY: Unfortunately every party pursues its own interests. First of all by claiming that it is better than the others, and I don’t like that. We must form a single party “loyal to the country” that is find place for brotherly love amongst us, be united and work with a single heart for all our Iraqi brothers. And we must also encourage our countrymen abroad to implement this policy. In a word, we must do everything possible for the good of our country.
Faithful in a church in the Karrada district of Baghdad [© Afp/Grazia Neri]
DELLY: I have made an appeal, first of all, to the policy makers, who can really change something in the country. From the president of the Republic to the prime minister, ministers, heads of parties, Ali al-Sistani himself, the great Shiite ayatollah. And I forward the same appeal to all political leaders in the world, who so far have not done much. They hear the news from Iraq, it upsets them, but they do nothing, apart from offering fine words to us, then everyone goes home and forgets us. Why don’t they talk to our leaders in Iraq, to the head of the White House, to other powerful leaders who could influence things? I continue to appeal to everyone, inside and outside Iraq.
You mentioned the Shiite Ali al-Sistani. You know how great Iran’s influence is in ensuring a peaceful stabilization of Iraq.
DELLY: I speak with the leaders regardless of whether they are Shiites or Sunnis. I approach them as Iraqis, for the love of our homeland and our brother Iraqis, not as Shiites belonging to a foreign power. And that is why, I believe, that everyone respects me and meets me without difficulty, or comes to me to give or get advice. They know I’m not on this side or that. In Iraq we say: “To us the homeland, and all the rest for the Lord”. No matter whether my neighbor is Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Shiite; that’s his business, it’s something between him and the Lord. What I must do and what I have to work for is loyalty to the homeland.
What relations have you maintained with the Iraqi diaspora and with the Christians who have left?
DELLY: I would like those in the diaspora to return home. But if they can’t, if the diaspora has become second home to them, then let them stay where they are. For their good and that of the country where they now are and also for the good of their homeland. But ... I would like them to come back ... We don’t want the East to become empty of Christians, this East that the Lord loved so much. It is there that He lived and we don’t want those lands to be emptied of Christianity through someone’s fault.
Is there still the political will to move Christians, for security reasons, to certain “free zones” of the country?
DELLY: As far as I know all the leaders, from the president and the prime minister down, would like Christians to remain in the country because they are the strength of Iraq. The statistics say that Christians are only three or four percent of the population, but it’s not true ... They are much more significant because quality counts, and our Iraqi Christians are educated, eager to get on, and know the world outside the country. So that “three or four percent”, even if it is a small number, does not really identify a minority, because it refers to people who have been in Iraq before the coming of Islam. Indigenous to the country, not immigrants.
What has it meant for the Patriarch to live five years of war and persecution?
DELLY: It’s a matter of course, we shouldn’t wonder at it. Our Lord spent three years doing good to his fellow countrymen, giving them bread, healing their sick, and despite them shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” at his passage on Palm Sunday, on the Friday following they all cried: “Crucify him!” That’s life! People soon forget, we instead must always do good, follow the example of our Lord, the footsteps He left walking. As He climbed Golgotha, enduring everything, but then rose again, so too must we go along the same path of suffering, criticism, abuse, but we are sure that in the end we will have the resurrection and the victory.
There’s a new administration in America. Have you any comment on it?
DELLY: No, these things don’t concern me ... Instead I’m pleased with our Christians, who are really steadfast in the faith, despite the difficulties in which they find themselves today.
Baghdad, 31 October, 2008: a demonstration of solidarity with the Christian community of Mosul, which in recent weeks has once again been targeted in a tragic wave of violence [© Associated Press/LaPresse]
DELLY: I can only say that they are truly devout, have faith, know their religious duties and go straight through with them, despite the difficulties, despite the fear. Every Sunday they bring their children to mass, and that is a good thing. Admittedly, the situation is not easy, even schools are sometimes threatened, so many no longer send their children fearing they may be kidnapped or killed.
So the violent groups against Christians continue to operate?
DELLY: They are fanatics acting for their own interest ... But when the government gets to know they stop it. Our government is independent, although Shiite it is trying to do good to Christians also, to gain their respect and praise, not suspicion. As I said we have never heard of a decree against Christians as Christians, at least so far. The Shiites are defending Christians. They say that they should be helped and given work, because they are part of Iraq and Iraq cannot live without Christians.
There are also some, however, who only look after their own interests, some Muslim fringes...
The Iraqi Constitution maintains the Sharia as the source of law.
DELLY: But not everyone agrees on the text of the Constitution, even among Muslims.
Does the possibility of reforming the text of the Constitution still exist?
DELLY: There are many outstanding questions about the Constitution: freedom of religion, which, for example, isn’t there. The Constitution is based on the Koran, which cannot be contradicted by any law, while the sources of law could be many, because other religions exist. If that were our only problem...
Who knows how much disinterested or interested advice on how to solve them you must have received...
DELLY: From my days in Rome, as a student seminarian, I remember a teacher of mine explaining to me what philosophy is: ‘It is knowledge with which, or without which, man remains as he is”.