Pope accepts resignation of 85-year-old Chaldean Patriarch

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Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch Emeritus of Babylon of the Chaldeans and former Primate of the Chaldean Catholic Church. Credit: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 19 accepted the resignation of Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and called the Chaldean bishops to Rome for a synod to elect his successor.

Cardinal Delly, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, was elected the Chaldean patriarch on Dec. 3, 2003. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in November 2007. The 85-year-old resigned for age and health reasons, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reports.

The Chaldean bishops oversee a Church of more than 1.5 million members in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Chaldeans are the most numerous Christian group in Iraq, with eight dioceses, 100 parishes, and about 500,000 faithful, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association says.

However, Iraqi Chaldean numbers have fallen drastically since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Patriarch Emmanuel, whose see is based in Baghdad, led Chaldean Catholics at a time when Iraqi Christians suffered from bombings, kidnappings and murders due to a lack of security. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and three companions were abducted in February 2008 and subsequently murdered.

Pope Benedict in 2007 said his choice of Patriarch Emmanuel as a cardinal showed his “spiritual closeness and affection” for Iraq’s Christians, Vatican Radio says.

The Chaldean bishops' synod will take place Jan. 28, 2013 under the leadership of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of  the Congregation for Oriental Churches.

On Dec. 14 Cardinal Sandri presided at the Mass that consecrated the restored Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad. The cathedral was the site of a deadly terrorist attack on October 31, 2010 that killed two priests and 50 other faithful.

He praised the “honorable sacrifices” that allowed the cathedral to reopen and said that God “encourages Eastern Christians, and especially those of Iraq, to communion and testimony.”

Pope Benedict has appointed Archbishop Jacques Ishaq as administrator of the Chaldean Church until the next patriarch is elected.

The Chaldean Catholic Church has been in unbroken communion with the Roman Catholic Church since the early 19th century. It uses Syriac as a liturgical language.

The Chaldean Catholic Church has two U.S. dioceses: the Southfield, Mich.-based Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of the Chaldeans, headed by Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim; and the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle of the Chaldeans in San Diego, headed by Bishop Sarhad Jammo.

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