A Cloud of Mystery settles on the Baghdad Massacre

Robert Moynihan
 Seven of the 60 people who died in Sunday’s bloody siege on Baghdad’s Syriac Catholic Cathedral were buried on November 2, All Souls Day.

But why, precisely, were they killed? Why was this particular cathedral a target? Was this a random act, or a planned one? If planned, as it seemingly was, then by whom? These gunmen were wearing military uniforms. Of what kind? From where? Survivors said the gunmen spoke with accents, that they did not seem to be Iraqi. If so, where were they from?
 Survivors who looked in the killers’ eyes said they appeared to be “crazy men,” not in their right minds, that they killed pitilessly and without seeming purpose, indiscriminately — that they seemed possessed. If this is true, is there any way of ascertaining whether the gunmen were intoxicated, on drugs, or in some way “programmed” to kill? Can their corpses be tested for possible doping of some kind?

The liturgy was led, in the absence of the Syriac archbishop, by the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly (see photo above).

I never wrote that I met Cardinal Patriarch Delly again in Rome. I wrote two weeks ago that I met him, briefly, on Friday evening, October 22, shook his hand, and asked him why he had spoken so favorably at the Synod about the situation of Christians in Iraq. “I have nothing more to say,” he told me then. He clearly did not wish any sort of interview. He did not realize that I did not want an interview at all, only to understand better why he had said what he said. I accepted that I would never have the chance to speak at length with him. But the next day, Saturday, October 23, I ran into him again, by chance…

“We are gathered here in this sacred house to say farewell to our brothers who were just the day before yesterday exclaiming love and peace,” Patriarch Delly told the mourners. “Now fate has decided that they will leave us.”

That Saturday, I was eating a late afternoon meal at a table outside a restaurant on the Borgo Pio, the little cobblestoned street which runs to St. Anne’s Gate and into the Vatican, when, unexpectedly, I saw Patriarch Delly walking down the street. It was about 4 in the afternoon. He was walking with five other men, apparently friends — perhaps bodyguards? He was evidently taking an afternoon constitutional. I got up from the table. “Good evening, Your Eminence,” I said, walking toward him. He looked at me, shook his head, and increased the speed of his walking. The bodyguards stepped between us…

Among the congregation was the head of one of Iraq’s Shiite Muslim political parties, tears running down his face, according to wire reports.

Twenty minutes later, another monsignor attending the Synod came down the Borgo, and stopped. I told him I had just seen Patriarch Delly, and had wished to talk to him, but had been unable to. “Well, he’s staying just down the street at the Pensionato Romano,” the monsignor said. “Go there.” I paid for my meal and walked over to the place where Patriarch Delly was staying, the Pensionato Romano, just behind Vatican Radio. As I reached the door, Patriarch Delly and his five friends returned from their walk. They saw me, but swept by me into the residence…

(Here is a link to a web page about this residence: http://www.domusromana.it/brief%20history.htm)

I entered and stood by the front desk. Patriarch Delly and four of his friends sat in the lobby and talked. “They are waiting for dinner,” the priest at the desk told me. I asked him to ask one of the men with Patriarch Delly to come over to the desk. The priest immediately motioned to the man with his hand. The man came to the desk. “Hello,” I said, “I just wanted to explain why…” “Excuse me,” the man said. “The Patriarch doesn’t wish to speak with anyone. Please leave him in peace.” And he turned and walked away. I looked toward Patriarch Delly sitting a few feet away, then turned and left. I did not write about this, but thought of it again when this massacre occurred in Baghdad on Sunday, and when Delly celebrated this funeral Mass today…

A condolence telegram from Pope Benedict XVI was read:

“Deeply moved by the violent death of so many faithful and their priests Tha’ir Saad and Boutros Wasim, I wish, during the sacred funeral rite, to share spiritually in this occasion and pray that these our brothers and sisters are welcomed by the mercy of Christ into the Father’s House.”

The funerals in Iraq seem closer to me now. For seven years, American troops have been in Iraq, and yet the Christian community there always seemed distant to me, far away. Only at the Synod, this October in Rome, as I watched and listened, did I begin to be conscious of the true gravity of the situation of the Christians in the Middle East — the threats, kidnappings, the killings — and to feel somehow “connected” to that situation, even though I live far away, in a place where gunmen have never come into my church and killed women and children. I felt connected also to Patriarch Delly, in his silence, even if he did not feel connected to me…

“For years this country has been suffering untold hardships and even Christians have become the subject of brutal attacks that, in total disregard of life — an inviolable gift from God — seek to undermine confidence and peace.”

During the Synod, there were revealing moments. First of all, the Pope’s own, powerful interpretation of the predicament we face in our world: false gods, lying gods, gods of money and power, gods who are in fact demons, gods claiming to bring joy and life, but bringing sorrow and death. Those words the Pope spoke on the first morning of the Synod, on October 11, the anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council — 11/11/10 — were among the most powerful of his pontificate. “These gods must fall,” he said. They must not rule men’s lives, and compass their deaths. They must fall…

“I renew my call that the sacrifice of our brothers and sisters may be the seed of peace and true rebirth, and that those who care about reconciliation, solidarity and fraternal coexistence, find the strength and motivation to do good.”