Services planned for Chaldean Church leader, dead at 86

Cardinal Mar Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, died Tuesday in San Diego
Chaldeans in metro Detroit are mourning the death this week of the former worldwide leader of the Chaldean Church, Cardinal Mar Emmanuel III Delly, who led from 2003 to 2012, a difficult time for Iraqi Christians.

Delly’s visitation today and funeral Saturday in Southfield were expected to be attended by thousands, said local Chaldean leaders. Delly, who died Tuesday in San Diego at age 86, had moved to the U.S. last year from Iraq for medical treatment and stayed under the care of Chaldean nuns.

An outspoken critic of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, Delly fought to highlight the problems facing Iraq’s minorities since the 2003 war began. Hundreds of thousands of Chaldeans were forced to flee their homes in Iraq because of security problems and growing radicalization. He became Patriarch of the Chaldean community in December 2003 and stepped down 11 years later in December 2012.

In a telegram sent Wednesday, Pope Francis said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Delly’s death.

“I recall with deep gratitude the late Patriarch’s dedication to his people and to the promotion of respectful, just and peaceful relations with followers of other religious traditions,” the pope said. “I join you and all who mourn the passing of this esteemed Pastor in commending his noble soul.”

Delly is being buried in Southfield, the first time in memory a former Patriarch of the Chaldean Church is being buried and having his funeral in Michigan, said Chaldean leaders. His funeral is being held here because of family ties and the unstable situation in Iraq, they said.

He’s survived by two sisters who live in metro Detroit, one sister in Windsor and one brother in Phoenix, Ariz. There are 10 Chaldean churches in southeastern Michigan, which has one of the highest concentrations of Chaldeans in the U.S.

“He fought for his people,” said Joseph Kassab, president of Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute in West Bloomfield. “He was a very humble, hard-working person who was very much liked by everyone in the Iraqi diaspora. He did a lot.”

Kassab said Delly never owned a car or home and was dedicated to helping Chaldeans as the community suffered in Iraq.

Speaking to the Free Press in 2008 during a visit to Southfield, Delly criticized the U.S. government for ignoring the concerns of Iraq’s minorities, saying the war and occupation hurt Iraq.

“The absolute worst time that I’ve seen in my life has been the last five years, “ he said. “The occupation has not been good for the Christians and for all of Iraq.”

Delly became a priest in 1952 and was ordained as a bishop in 1967 at the age of 38, a young age to become a bishop.

“He was so intelligent and wise a person,” said Kassab.

“He was like a holy man,” said Saher Yaldo of West Bloomfield. “It’s very sad for the community.”

Delly’s time as leader of the Chaldean community came at a time when the population rapidly declined.

“He was very vocal about the treatment of minorities,” said Kassab. Also, “he was always vocal against the war in Iraq” because he believed that “Iraq should stay sovereign … no need for foreign forces to come into Iraq and resolve the issues.”

Visitation was to be today until midnight at Mother of God Chaldean Cathedral Church, 25585 Berg Rd., Southfield. The funeral is at noon Saturday at the church, followed by burial at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery in Southfield.