Iraq’s new cardinal holds first mass

dsc01639.JPGARBIL, Iraq (AFP) — Prelate Emmanuel III Delly has held his first mass since being made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, drawing an overflowing crowd to a small church in northern Iraq.

Worshippers greeted him with applause and chanting when he entered the Mar Yusef (Saint Joseph) church in the Christian town of Ainkawa near Arbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, late on Wednesday.

“With a heart filled with happiness, I am greeting you on returning from the Catholic capital, Rome,” Delly said.

“Pope Benedict XVI told me that he is praying for Iraq. He said to me, ‘I am praying for the Iraqis and wish that peace, love and brotherhood unite them into one Iraqi family’,” he added.

Delly, the 80-year-old patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is the largest Christian denomination in Iraq and is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. He was among 23 clerics made cardinal on November 24.

The pope made a point during the ceremony that by elevating Delly he sought to show in a “concrete way my spiritual closeness and affection” for Iraqi Christians.

Wednesday’s mass lasted two hours and because the church was so full, a big screen was put up in the yard outside to show the ceremony live.

“We are very happy to partake in the mass directly with the cardinal after he was elevated,” said Shamael Sami, a Baghdad resident who fled violence in the capital and is now living in the Kurdish north with his wife and two-year-old son.

“I want peace to prevail in Iraq so that we can go back to our homes,” he added.

“This is a great occasion,” said Toma Ishaq, an Ainkawa resident. “The post of cardinal is important for all Iraqis and we are happy that the cardinal chose Ainkawa to hold his first mass since his elevation.”

Following Cardinal Delly’s return from Rome on Tuesday, many delegations from government, political parties and religious groups have been to Mar Yusef church to congratulate him.