By: Weam Namou
Only 1 percent of Iraq’s Christian population remains in the homeland. For that reason, says Bishop Basil Yaldo, the presence of that 1 percent is very important, adding, “That one percent is showing the other 99 percent what Christianity really is.”
In an effort to display the positive side of Iraq, to instill hope and happiness into his people and to spread the message of Christians’ peaceful and loving ways, Bishop Yaldo has taken a very active and lively role in the Chaldean Diocese in Iraq. This role includes taking large tour groups to Babylon and Najaf.
“Why don’t we show the world the good face of Iraq?” he asks. “Why do we always show the dark face? Despite terrorism, there’s still love and compassion here.”
The author of numerous articles and 15 books, most recently Peace, Bishop Yaldo was born in Telkaif on May 23, 1970 and entered the Patriarch Seminary at Dora, Baghdad in 1994. Two years later, he was sent to Rome to complete his theological studies at the Urban College (Propaganda Fide) where he received a bachelor’s degree in Theology. On November 23, 2002, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim.
Over the years, he taught at Babel College, was the personal secretary to Patriarch Emanuel III Delly, and received a Ph.D. in theology from Urbaniana University in Rome. After being kidnapped for three days, he was transferred in 2007 to St. George Chaldean Catholic Church in Shelby Township, Michigan. In February 2015, he was ordained a bishop and assigned to serve in Baghdad.
“My family is all in Michigan,” he said. “Some people asked me, ‘How are you going to leave everyone and go to Iraq?’ I replied, ‘When I went into the seminary, I didn’t ask where I was going to serve. I will serve wherever they send me. I’m very happy with my stay in Iraq.’”
He feels needed in Iraq where the Chaldean Diocese provides humanitarian services not only to Christians, but anyone in need.
“We serve everyone without saying this person is this or that,” he said. “We’ve gone into the worst of places to help Muslims living in tents. This is done for humanitarian purposes and also to show them who we are as Christians.”
Knowing the hardships his people have endured, he creates fun activities to lessen their sadness, help them forget their troubles, and make them feel loved and that someone cares. Nearly 700 Christians accompanied him to Babylon to see historical sites such as the Ishtar Gate and the Lion of Babylon statue. He said this was the first time the people of Babylon saw this many Christians in their city.
“The trip was intended to make our people happy, but it was also a message for the Muslim people,” he said. “That we are the natives of this land, of Babylon. They were happy to see us there, to witness our peaceful ways and our love for Iraq.”
Journalists and major media outlets flocked around them to cover the event.
“The few Christians left here are the salt that makes the taste in the food,” he said. “This is the flavor of Christianity.”
Their trip to Najaf, a Shia city, was also a pleasant experience.
“This town, in the 5th century, was all Christian,” said the Bishop. “There used to be 33 churches and convents.”
Excavation in 2008 showed that Najaf is one of the oldest Christian cities in the world. Story has it that King Al-Numan ibn al-Mundhir converted to Christianity and built a convent there for his daughter who became a nun.
Bishop Yaldo’s positive activities are endless. On New Year’s Eve, he walked with a large crowd down Mansour Street and went to Al-Zarwa Park, where the tallest Christmas tree stood, donated by a Muslim businessman. In January, he marched with other Christians to celebrate the liberation of Telkaif, where a cross was placed over the church dome. In February, the church hosted a Valentine’s Day Party, which had a famous Muslim musician and 450 Muslim and Christian guests attended.
“When I see children in other countries laugh and play, I cry for the children of Iraq,” he said. “Why don’t they have the same opportunities as other children? They still lack electricity and other services. When it rains, their homes are sunk in mud.”
In March, the Bishop went to Egypt for the Al-Azhar Conference on Freedom and Citizenship: Diversity and Complementarity. Some 260 religious, academic, and political leaders from 60 Arab and Muslim countries attended, in an effort to combat extremist ideologies and emphasize the exceptional importance of Islamic-Christian relations. There, he met with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II and with the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Later that month, youths from the Shia city of Najaf, wearing their headscarves, attended the Stations of the Cross devotion at St. George Church in Baghdad.
“Tension does not serve us,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re all humans. God is Love. Nothing will be left but love. All the violence and terrorism will be gone. Our mission is to show people that we are loving and peaceful.”