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from issue no. 12 - 2003

IRAQ. Interview with the new Patriarch of the Chaldean Church

“Have we been liberated or occupied?”

“Politically we have been liberated from the old regime, in fact we are occupied. And the people, any people, does not like it”. Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of the Chaldees, explains the situation of the Iraqi people after the collapse of Saddam’s regime, the mistakes of the USA, the actual relationship of his own small Christian community with the Islamic majority

by Gianni Cardinale

Emmanuel III Delly, the newly elected Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldees

Emmanuel III Delly, the newly elected Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldees

On 3 December the Synod of the Chaldean Church chose its new Patriarch. He is 76 year old Emmanuel III Delly, auxiliary emeritus of Babylon of the Chaldees. He takes the place of Raphaël I Bidawid, who died on 7 July last.

The voting was held in Rome because in the first electoral ballot, held in Baghdad between the end of August and early September, no candidate obtained the votes necessary for election. On the same evening of 3 December the Pope received the new Patriarch, along with the bishops of the Synod, and granted him the ecclesiastica communio. The day afterwards in Saint Peter’s basilica, according to the usual procedure, high mass was concelebrated by the new Patriarch and by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud.
Delly was ordained priest on 21 December 1952 in Rome at the Pontifical Urban College of Propaganda Fide. In 1962, when only 35 years old, he was elected auxiliary to the Chaldean Patriarch Paul II Cheikho. A role which he retained in 1989 when Bidawid became Patriarch. On reaching 75 last year, Delly gave up the office becoming auxiliary emeritus. He remained an important point of reference, however, for the Chaldean community - but not just that - during the Iraqi campaign unleashed by the United States and the successive, turbulent postwar period, in which Iraq is still immersed.

Beatitude, the Pope, in the audience granted to you and the members of the Synod after your election as Patriarch, defined you as “Head and Father” of the Chaldean Church. What will your principal concerns be in the carrying out of this delicate office?
EMMANUEL III DELLY: From a social point of view the people expect that the new Patriarch, that their new “Father”, will be their advocate with those who hold civil power. That he will do everything possible so that peace, tranquility, stability and especially security, which we most lack, may reign. The conditions of security are in fact the prerequisite for the return to a normal life. From a religious point of view the people ask us to offer them Jesus Christ and to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel. Because when they see us dedicated to our mission of giving peace and charity, then they’re happy. And we hope to manage in that.
In what way do you think the international community can help Iraq?
DELLY: We ask the international community to collaborate in trying to satisfy the people. First, for example, the government guaranteed a minimum of food rations. The liberators came and instead of increasing these rations, they took them away. So we then asked: satisfy the people, give them coupons in dollars to buy food to eat. We have already suffered a great deal during thirteen years of embargo! Had it been like this the people would have been more content, more grateful not to occupiers, but to liberators. The Christian population, but also our Muslim brothers, expect from me, as from the Muslim leaders, to be intermediaries to get their demands through to United Nations.
Do you hope that the Iranian situation be taken under control by the UN?
DELLY: The situation is difficult. Because the UN and the Red Cross have suffered attacks. I do believe however that the reins of the situation must be taken up by the United Nations, also because the people would accept much more easily a liberating presence of the UN, rather than of the Americans or the English. It’s to be hoped, however, that as soon as possible the Iraqi people will be governed by their own representatives chosen by the people and not by the Americans, as they currently are. And it is to be hoped that the next Iraqi government will grant us effective religious freedom, the freedom to be sons of God.
The Christians are just about 3% of the population. How are relations with the Islamic majority?
DELLY: For almost 1,400 years we Iraqi Christians have lived peacefully with our Muslim brothers. We have many friends both among the Sunnites and the Shiites. We have always had good relations, we have always been in dialogue with them. Certainly we have not carried out proselytizing work among them. Proselytism is not dialogue. If Muslims are good and follow the principles of the Koran and not those of fanaticism, and if Christians are good and follow the principles of the Gospel, then there are no problems about living together. The Koran in fact does not say kill, go and rob, do evil to your neighbor …
But the problem of religious fanaticism exists …
DELLY: A fanatic is neither a Christian nor a Muslim. He is a fanatic and that’s all. However the greater number of fanatics present in Iraq come from outside. And they have come after the liberation, after the occupation of Iraq.
Iraqi women queuing for water supplies

Iraqi women queuing for water supplies

You use alternatively the terms “liberation” and “occupation” to describe the intervention of the United States and their allies in your country …
DELLY: Politically we have been liberated from the old regime. In fact we are occupied. And a people, any people, likes to be liberated, but does not like to be occupied. To explain the situation, let me recount an incident. After the fall of Baghdad there was a meeting between an assistant of Paul Bremer [head of the American civil administration in Iraq] and 450 Shiite, Sunni and Christian representatives of the Iraqi people. I was also present along with Monsignor Warduni. At a certain point one of the 450, a Muslim, raised his hand and asked: “Are you here as liberators or as occupiers?” and added, “I want a precise answer, clear!” Then the American representative began to reply with a long maze of words to say in effect that it was an occupation: a few days before, in fact, President Bush had said that the USA was an occupying force and that he certainly couldn’t claim to be a liberator. So all of the 450 immediately abandoned the meeting in protest and Bremer’s assistant was left alone … Today however both Bush and Bremer are very careful to describe themselves as the ones who liberated us from a political regime. So they say.
And do the people perceive them in this way?
DELLY: The people have suffered and still suffer. The allies when they arrived dismantled the army, the police, the structures of government and of the Baath party. This means that a million families, that is about five million Iraqis, suddenly found themselves without the means of sustenance. We tried to make the Americans understand that things couldn’t go well in that way. It seems that now they have begun to understand. It seems that they have decided to reconstruct an army and an Iraqi police force, not least to give more security to the people. But perhaps it’s a little late. Perhaps they should have done so beforehand. Let’s hope for the best.
Have there been acts of Islamic persecution against Christians in this Iraqi postwar period?
DELLY. Truly not. There have not been actions against our fellow brothers as Christians. It’s true, however, that they burned and destroyed the alcohol factories, prohibited by Islamic law, managed by Christians. We protested but in any case the factories don’t exist anymore …
In the Italian media there was a debate about how to define the perpetrators of the bombings and the attacks against the allied troops. Whether they should be considered terrorists, resistance fighters or guerrillas. What do you think about this?
DELLY: Difficult to find a definition. But the authors of the attacks do harm. Indeed, I will take advantage of this interview to offer again to all of the Italian people and especially to the families of the Carabinieri and the soldiers killed in Nassiriya my heartfelt sympathy. I pray that the Lord will grant them eternal life and comfort to their loved ones. They were very good, they were the best. The people loved them. Why did they kill them? We don’t know. Where did the attackers come from? We don’t know.
How do you recall your predecessor Bidawid?
DELLY: As a pastor who did his duty, who carried out his mission. We thank the Lord that he did all that was possible to help his Chaldean people according to his capacity.
Beatitude, but could the war in Iraq have been avoided?
DELLY: Yes, it could really have been avoided. We thank the Holy Father because he did everything to avoid this tragedy for us. War can always be avoided through discussion, through charity. War never brings anything good, neither during it nor afterwards.
During the bombardments of Baghdad in March last the news arrived that you had been injured …
DELLY: I was speaking on the telephone with Vatican Radio when some bombs fell about a hundred and fifty meters from the Patriarchate. All the windows of the residence were shattered. Thanks be to God and the Virgin Mary that the curtains prevented me from being wounded by those slivers of glass.
A last thought on the Holy Land.
DELLY: Many suffer there. We hope and pray that the Lord may grant peace to the land where Jesus was born, was crucified and rose again.

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