Delly to Iraqis: "Come Home"
Speaking at a news conference, the 80-year-old patriarch described his elevation to cardinal as a honour for "all Iraqis and not just Christians."As the lone oriental church hierarch to receive the red hat tomorrow, Delly will be the highest-ranking member of the 23 new cardinals, in terms of seniority in the college.
Karim-Delly said he had assured Iraqi leaders he would continue to use his position "to convince those who have left Iraq to return and help build the country."
The mostly Chaldean Christians still living in Iraq are now estimated to number 600,000 compared to the 1.2 million living in the country before Saddam Hussein's 2003 overthrow.
The Baghdad patriarch said he had recently discussed with members of Iraq's Shiite Muslim-dominated government measures on safeguarding Iraq's Christian community, which makes up around 3 per cent of the population.
Pressed by a reporter for details on the measures discussed the patriarch chose not to answer, but said the situation in "tortured Iraq" was gradually improving.
He also said several churches forced to shut down because of the sectarian violence had recently reopened their doors to the faithful.
Karim-Delly in the past has denounced what he called the "persecution" of Christians in Iraq, but on Friday he was more reconciliatory towards the Baghdad government.
Iraqi leaders had given him "full support" as shown by a government delegation headed by Human Rights Minister Wijdan Mikhail Salim, herself a Chaldean, who will attend Saturday's ceremony.
"He has done all Iraqis proud," said the minister, who was also at Friday's news conference.
By decree of Paul VI, Eastern patriarchs are numbered among the cardinal-bishops, the six senior members of the papal senate who are honorarily given title to the suffragan sees of Rome. While every Latin-rite cardinal is given the care of a Roman church -- in token of the college's place as the historic descendants of the city's first clergy -- the patriarchs simply hold the title of the church over which they preside.
PHOTO: Reuters/Dario Pignatelli