2 metro Detroit Chaldean priests to be ordained bishops

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Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
As Christians increasingly face persecution in Iraq, two local Iraqi-American Catholic priests will be promoted to bishop Friday in Iraq. One will serve in Iraq, where he was kidnapped in 2006.
In September 2006, Rev. Basel Yaldo was kidnapped for three days in Iraq and beaten by his captors. After he was released, he kept getting death threats, part of a wave of anti-Christian violence that had swept across his country as extremists gained influence.

It was so bad for him that he was transferred in 2007 to St. George Chaldean Church in Shelby Township. He has served in metro Detroit parishes for seven years.

Now, he’s headed back to Iraq to be an auxiliary bishop in Baghdad, one of two local Chaldean, or Iraqi Catholic, priests who will be ordained Friday in Iraq as bishops.

The elevation by Pope Francis of Yaldo, 44, of Southfield, and another local Chaldean priest, Chorbishop Emanuel Shaleta, 58, of Shelby Township, is a bit of happy news for metro Detroit’s Chaldean community at a time when the situation for Christians in Iraq looks increasingly bleak. While Yaldo will go to Iraq, Shaleta will be a bishop in Toronto.

“We are really honored,” said Rev. Manuel Boji, vicar general of St. Thomas the Apostle Chaldean Catholic Diocese, which covers the eastern half of the U.S. “The priests are well known in the community for their long service.”


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The promotion of the two priests comes after Catholics ended 33 days of prayer for the plight of Christians in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. It ended last week with a nine-day Rosary Novena, a Catholic prayer.

The idea for the special prayers came from Bishop Francis Kalabat, named by Pope Francis last year to lead the St. Thomas Diocese, which includes 14 churches, 12 of them in Michigan.

“Prayer gives hope, the feeling of solidarity with the people they’re praying for, that we are all one body of Christ,” said Boji.

Yaldo will serve under the worldwide head of the Chaldean Church, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, helping him in his daily tasks. In Sako’s absence, Yaldo will lead the churches in Baghdad. Yaldo will also be the point man for communication with Chaldean dioceses around the world.

Yaldo said he wants to “give people hope and to keep their faith alive.” Also, “We have to convince the Iraqi government to protect the Christians of Iraq,” he said.

Yaldo was born in Tel Keif. He was ordained a priest in 2002, the year before the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which resulted in a much worse situation for minority Christians there. Hundreds of thousands have fled over the last decade.

Yaldo said his 2006 kidnapping “brought me closer to God and strengthened my faith. It also pushed me to be more serious and be more involved. Virgin Mary was the one who helped me when I was kidnapped, and I’m sure she will help me in Iraq.”

Shaleta, who has served in Michigan for 28 years, will be the new bishop of the Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto. Shaleta said he will “miss all the good people who served with me — the priests, the deacons, the choir and all the volunteers. They became my family.”

Boji tries to look at Christians’ plight from a broader, historical perspective.

“This is another episode in the history of the Chaldean Church, which is known as the Church of the Martyrs,” said Boji, whose boyhood church in Tel Keif was taken over by the Islamic State last year. “The church has been through times of freedom, times of persecution.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792, nwarikoo@freepress.com or on Twitter @nwarikoo