Pope wants new Iraqi cardinal to be reconciler

Iraq's Patriarch Emanuel III Delly gestures as he arrives to attend a news conference at the Vatican November 23, 2007. Patriarch Delly will be elevated with 22 other bishops to the rank of Roman Catholic Cardinals during a solemn ceremony celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A prelate from Iraq about to be made a cardinal said on Friday Pope Benedict had told him he hoped his elevation would help reconciliation among Christians and Muslims in his country.

Emmanuel III Delly, the Baghdad-based Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, is one of 23 Roman Catholic prelates who will be raised to the rank of cardinal by the Pope on Saturday.

“He said to me: ‘I hope that this gesture will be a sign of reconciliation ... especially among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Christians, because Iraq is a country dear to me,’” Delly told a news conference after meeting the Pontiff earlier in the day.

The Chaldeans are Iraq’s biggest Christian group and the Chaldean rite is one of the most ancient of the Catholic Church.

Many Iraqi Chaldeans have emigrated since the war started. In the past, Delly has warned that the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, could be emptied of its Christians because so many leave to escape the violence there.

At the news conference, however, he said he wanted his elevation to the elite ranks of the Church to be seen as an honor for all Iraqis, regardless of their religion.

“A car bomb does not kill only Christians or Muslims, it kills everybody,” the 80-year-old said.

Delly also appealed to Iraqis who have left to return to help rebuild the country.

He refused to be drawn on political aspects of the Iraqi conflict, merely asking the international community to help build peace there.

Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Andrew Roche