Cleric’s message to Obama: Don’t forget Iraq

bilde2.jpgBy Wayne Peal
On a visit to the United States, the leader of Iraq’s Christian population sent warm wishes Tuesday to President-elect Barack Obama — along with a plea not to forget the issues facing all Iraqis.
Speaking in Southfield, Cardinal Mar Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, said he wished the best for the new president.

“I wish blessing for the president. I hope for him to do the work of the Lord,” said Delly, Iraq’s highest ranking Catholic official, during an appearance at St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Diocese.

But Delly’s U.S. visit was designed to keep the plight of Iraqis in the forefront of U.S. foreign policy debate.

More than 40 percent of Iraq’s once 1.25 million Christians have fled the country in the past five years as the result of the war and ensuing religious persecution, according to St. Thomas member Dave Nona, who served as the cardinal’s unofficial interpreter.

“They have fled to the Nineveh plains, their historic homeland (a region northwest of present-day Mosul, Iraq) but they have also fled to other countries.”
At present, he said, only a handful have settled in the U.S.

“I would say it was about 12,000 because of homeland security,” Nona said, referring to restrictions on Middle Eastern immigration. “We’re hoping that some 15,000-18,000 will be allowed to enter next year.”

Chaldeans are generally defined as eastern rite Christians who trace their history to the ancient lands which preceded modern-day Iraq and Syria.

Metro Detroit contains the largest Chaldean-American community in the U.S. with at least 82,000 members. Of that, roughly 35,000 live within metro Detroit with more than half living in Sterling Heights, West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills, Southfield and Troy.

For members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the deaths of five church leaders, killed between 2007-08, have served as a rallying point.

Delly, however, said his message of peace was for all Iraqis.

“I ask all Christians and all Muslims — I make a cry for help, a prayer for all Iraqis,” Delly said.