Pope voices ‘closeness’ to Iraqis

pop.jpgVATICAN CITY (AFP) — Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday that by elevating the patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldeans to the rank of cardinal he wished to express his spiritual closeness and affection for Iraqis.

By inducting Emmanuel III Delly into the College of Cardinals, “I intend to express in a concrete way my spiritual closeness and my affection for these people,” the pope said at a Vatican ceremony creating 23 new cardinals.

“I think now with affection of communities entrusted to your care and, especially, to those most tried by suffering, challenges and difficulties of various kinds,” he said.

“Among them, how can one not turn one’s gaze with apprehension and affection, in this moment of joy, to the dear Christian communities in Iraq?” he asked, drawing loud applause from the prelates assembled in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

“These brothers and sisters of the faith are experiencing in the flesh the dramatic consequences of a lasting conflict and live in a fragile and delicate political situation,” he said.

Emmanuel III, the 80-year-old spiritual leader of Iraqi Christians, said Friday that the honour was for “all Iraqis.”

“The title of cardinal that the pope has accorded me is not for my poor self alone but for all Iraqis, both those who still live in our tortured country and those who have emigrated,” he told reporters.

“I will continue to serve Iraq and all the ethnic and religious groups of the country who should be united. I will serve my country, Iraq, to the last drop of my blood,” he said.

Emmanuel III said Benedict had referred to his nomination as a “sign of reconciliation … between Christians and all the Muslims, whether Sunni or Shiite.”

The pope has repeatedly called for dialogue between Christians and Muslims to combat intolerance and violence.