Top of Pope Benedict’s New Years list: The Church in Iraq

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(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has convoked a Synod of bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church for January, 2013. The aim of the Synod will be to elect a successor to His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, whose resignation was accepted by the Holy Father on Wednesday. Emer McCarthy reports:RealAudioMP3

The Chaldean Church is the largest Christian group in Iraq, consisting of eight dioceses, 100 parishes and approximately 500,000 faithful. The number has fallen drastically however, since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

During the war and subsequent insecurity, Christians in Iraq were the targets of an often violent persecution including bomb attacks, murders and abductions. This led to a wave of emigration generating a large Iraqi Christian diaspora.

The Chaldean Church has other dioceses and eparchies in countries including Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Europe. It is estimated that the Chaldean population is over one and a half million worldwide.

During the turmoil that ensued the 2003 invasion the Chaldean Church suffered great losses. Most notably, the young priest Father Ragheed Ganni, of the Chaldean Church of the Holy Spirit, who was killed on 3 June 2007 in Mosul, alongside the subdeacons Basman Yousef Daud, Wahid Hanna Isho, and Gassan Isam Bidawed, after he celebrated mass.

Also in Mosul, the Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and three companions were abducted on February 29, 2008, and murdered a few days later.

Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, 85, was elected Patriarch of the Chaldean Church on December 3, 2003, succeeding the late Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid. He was created a Cardinal Bishop by Pope Benedict XVI on November 24, 2007. On that occasion Pope Benedict was said the gesture demonstrated his “spiritual closeness and affection” for Iraqi Christians.

The Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church will meet in Rome on 28 January 2013 and will be presided by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Cardinal. Sandri recently travelled to Iraq on a 5 day visit to the capital Baghdad, Kirkuk and Erbil.

On December 14th he presided at Mass for the consecration of the restored Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help which was the scene of a terrorist attack October 31, 2010, that left more than 50 faithful and 2 priests dead.

During his homily, the Cardinal immediately recalled the “testimony offered by many of our brothers and sisters” who “preceded by two young and heroic priests” united forever “their lives to Jesus Christ.” He highlighted the “honorable sacrifices” that have allowed the reopening of the cathedral and pointed out that, through the comfort and hope “the Lord encourages Eastern Christians, and especially those of Iraq, to ??communion and testimony.” Bringing the greetings of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sandri invoked the Lord, so that “the tears shed in this sacred place, become the good seed of communion and witness and bear much fruit.”

Historically, Cardinal Sandri also accompanied the Syro-Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako on a visit to the city’s Great Mosque at the invitation of the local Islamic leaders. There the religious leaders unanimously launched an appeal for Christians and Muslims to work together for peace, without which “there is no civilization or progress”.

The Holy Father has appointed Archbishop Jacques Ishaq as administrator of the Chaldean Church pending the election of the patriarch.