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Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Chaldean archbishop of Baghdad, was one of 23 new cardinals Nov. 24. He sat down with Register correspondent Fady Noun to discuss the situation in Iraq.
BY Fady Noun
Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, head of the Chaldean Church in
Iraq, is one of 23 cardinals created in the Nov. 24 consistory. The decision
has been understood to be a way to attract the attention of the world as well
as to Christians of the fate of the Chaldean Church, which is undergoing
terrible suffering in Iraq, plunged in political and religious turmoil after
the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Born in Mosul in northern Iraq, the 80-year-old cardinal is
familiar with Rome and the Vatican, where he studied for 14 years, obtaining
degrees in philosophy, theology and canon law.
Based in Baghdad, where the Patriarch’s See is found,
Emmanuel III recently visited Lebanon, where he participated in the annual
meeting of the Catholic Eastern Patriarchs. He spoke with Register
correspondent Fady Noun at the Chaldean bishop’s residence in Lebanon, in a
suburb of Beirut.
Your Beatitude, how many Christians are there in Iraq
today, knowing that since 2003, it is said that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis
have fled their country?
All in all, there were more than one million Christians in
Iraq, of a total population of about 20 million. Today, almost five years after
the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, this number has decreased and has reached
700,000 to 750,000 Christians. In the last four years, four million Iraqis have
fled their country, 200,000 to 250,000 of them Christians.
That amounts to 25% of the Christians, and 80% of the
Christians in Iraq belong to the Chaldean Church. What drives them out of Iraq?
Today, what drives Chaldeans out of Iraq is fear,
assassinations and the chaos that came after the American troops entered the
land. Of course, I do not want to judge anybody, but one has to bear
responsibility for one’s acts. Who bears the responsibility for the chaos and
anarchy in Iraq for the past four years? I don’t know … the leaders? Fanatics?
As a matter of principle, we Church leaders always side with
the civil authorities in place, in a particular country, faithful to our
homeland and compatriots, to which we are bound by common interests.
Was Iraq a better
place to live, for Christians, under Saddam Hussein?
War is always undesirable, it has never solved anything. It
didn’t in the past; it won’t in the present or the future. God hates war, the
shedding of blood. His commandment is a commandment of life. God doesn’t want a
country to invade another country. We’re all one family, whatever way you look
at it. We have to act for the good of the family.
Pope John Paul II warned against the war, calling it a
defeat for humanity. Do you agree with that?
Before John Paul II, God himself has commanded not to kill.
Besides, the whole world stood against the war on Iraq. God crowned us with
this supreme gift of reason so that we may, by reason and dialogue, come to
love one another, rejecting hate and the shedding of blood. Unfortunately, we
ask God for everything but never abide by his will when it’s his turn to ask.
War is a woe but we forget that it is self-inflicted and go around blaming God
What about the
Christians in Iraq?
You journalists always ask how Christians are doing in Iraq.
Ask me instead how Iraqis are doing in Iraq! When a booby-trapped car blows up,
does it kill only Christians? Christians’ fate in Iraq is exactly the same as
that of Muslims, with whom we’ve been coexisting for 14 generations, until a
few years ago, until men threw seeds of jealousy, hatred and division among us.
But aren’t Christians
persecuted in Iraq?
Well, let me answer frankly. Since modern Iraq existed, no
Iraqi government has taken hostile measures against Christians simply because
they are Christians. On the other hand, yes, Christians in Iraq have suffered
from the consequences of measures taken by the Iraqi authorities. Under Saddam
Hussein, the selling of alcohol, as well as its consumption, was declared
illegal. But the decision was not made to harm Christians. It was a way of
saying to neighboring countries, “We are more Muslim than you.”
Another example was the nationalization of schools in 1974-1975.
It wasn’t done to harm Christians, although Christian schools were most harmed
by that decision. Nationalization of schools, particularly Muslim schools, was
meant to prevent Muslims from escaping military service. I protested then,
explaining that Christians were more hurt by these laws than Muslims, but one
should talk about it in all fairness.
Aren’t you negating evidence? What about all those
Christians forced to leave their houses or convert to Islam? All those priests
and deacons abducted, tortured or killed?
Priests are not the only victims of these things. Just
before coming here, I was told that, to this day, 143 imams in mosques were not
only abducted, but cold-bloodedly killed. Sometimes, the abduction would be
solely to get the ransom. You see, Islam is innocent of many a hateful thing
done in its name. Thousands of Iraqis are fleeing Iraq out of fear of fanatics.
But who is responsible for the terror that has swept and is sweeping Iraq?
Do you fear being
Everybody fears for his life. See how the worm shrinks when
it is threatened.
Have you paid any
I have paid ransoms, high ransoms.
Is the Chaldean
seminary in Baghdad still occupied by the American army?
Yes, it is. It was occupied first without our asking, but
now, what’s the use of asking people to leave? It would only be occupied by
others, who would degrade it even more. When the war is over, the building will
be returned. Now the seminary is located in Erbil (northern Iraq), where it is
safer. You can easily understand that parents won’t let their children go to an
Is the religious
identity of Chaldeans threatened abroad?
It depends. There are about 200,000 Chaldeans in the United
States, mostly in Michigan and in Chicago, as well as in California. The
Chaldeans in the U.S. are more attached to their Church than those who are
living in Iraq.
But we are told that the U.S. authorities hardly give any
entry visa to Chaldeans flying out of Iraq.
Yes, unfortunately so. Visas are granted very scarcely,
mainly from fear that terrorists will infiltrate into the U.S.: an easy excuse
Does the Holy See help
They’re doing their best, but let’s not throw everything on
the Holy See.
Do you have friendly
ties with the Americans in Iraq? Do you meet any of their officials?
I personally don’t. I model my attitude on that of the Iraqi
government. On the other hand, those who want the departure of all foreigners
will kill anyone they see cooperating with Americans. Why get exposed to any
Do you wish the
departure of the American army?
The desire to be independent is only natural. Sometimes, in
a home, the presence of a stranger is necessary. But if this presence starts
being heavy to bear, it goes without saying that you wish things would end.
You have said you were
hostile to the division of Iraq, but why not accept federalism?
Iraq is one, from Zakho to Basra. I am against the partition
of Iraq. We are one people, one family, one Iraq. As for federalism, it has to
be defined. We want federalism, not anarchy.
What is the situation
of Chaldeans in the world?
I do my best so that Iraqis who have fled Iraq be treated
well. Some are living in sheer misery. The patriarch has a duty to visit all
his community at least once every five years. But I don’t think I will travel
to the United States, as long as the situation remains what it is.
What is your message
to those Chaldeans who have left Iraq?
God has loved the East. He chose to be born and to die here.
We should love it also. And stay here.
I simply ask those who have left to think about those who
stayed behind, and help them by creating little factories or businesses. Our
children should not become beggars or forced to leave. This is what will happen
if no one creates jobs. No one will remain.
Fady Noun is based
in Beirut, Lebanon.