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Two Iraqi-born Catholic priests who have been serving in the United States have returned to Baghdad to become bishops. One of them, who had once been kidnapped and beaten there by anti-Christian extremists, will be remaining in his native—and troubled—land.
Father Basel Yaldo, 44, a Chaldean Catholic priest who has been serving at Mother of God Church in Southfield, Michigan, and Chorbishop Emanuel Shaleta, pastor of St. George’s parish in Shelby Township, both suburbs of Detroit, were ordained to the episcopate February 6 in Baghdad. Bishop Yaldo will serve as auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate of Babylon, heading the local Church in Baghdad when Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako is away. Bishop Shaleta will head the Eparchy of Mar Addai in Toronto, Canada.
Kathy Schiffer writes at her Seasons of Grace blog at Patheos:
Father Yaldo told the Detroit Free Press that his 2006 kidnapping “brought me closer to God and strengthened my faith. It also pushed me to be more serious and be more involved. Virgin Mary was the one who helped me when I was kidnapped, and I’m sure she will help me in Iraq.”
The episcopal ordinations come as a dispute continues between Patriarch Sako and several Iraqi priests serving in the United States. In the wake of the Islamic State group’s takeover of areas in northern Iraq, traditionally home to Christians, the patriarch ordered many expatriate priests to return to be with the suffering Christians in Iraq. Some have resisted, citing the need to serve their burgeoning Chaldean communities in America.
Returning to Iraq also carries great risk, of course. Fareed Saka, a deacon at St. Peter’s Chaldean Church in El Cajon, California, for example, speculated on the fate of one such priest, his pastor, Father Noel Gorgis, if he returns to Iraq: "He’ll be killed in a day or two, kidnapped maybe," Deacon Saka told the Los Angeles Times.
For his part, Bishop Yaldo said he wants to “give people hope and to keep their faith alive,” when he takes up his new role. He also hopes to convince the Iraqi government to protect the Christians of Iraq.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.