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WikiLeaks: 2008-07-26: 08BAGHDAD2326: Papal Nuncio Assesses Feasibility of Restoring Baghdad Churches, Seminaries

by WikiLeaks. 08BAGHDAD2326: July 26, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 04:18 PM UT


Viewing cable 08BAGHDAD2326, PAPAL NUNCIO ASSESSES FEASIBILITY OF RESTORING

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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BAGHDAD2326 2008-07-26 11:23 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXRO6788
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #2326/01 2081123
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 261123Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8508
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 002326 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/22/2018 
TAGS: KIRF PGOV PREL IZ
SUBJECT: PAPAL NUNCIO ASSESSES FEASIBILITY OF RESTORING 
BAGHDAD CHURCHES, SEMINARIES 
 
BAGHDAD 00002326  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
Classified By: By Political Counselor Robert Ford for reasons 1.4(b) an 
d (d). 
 
SUMMARY 
-------- 
 
1.  (C)  Embassy and 1BCT (Brigade Combat Team)/4ID - ePRT 
Baghdad-1 facilitated a joint visit with Papal Nuncio 
Archbishop Francis Chullikatt on July 22 to explore the 
condition of Chaldean and other Church facilities in 
Baghdad's Doura neighborhood.  The Nuncio's primary purpose 
was to assess the feasibility of restoring and reopening 
Baghdad-based seminaries and draw back seminarians  who were 
forced during 2006 sectarian violence to flee to a temporary 
facility in the vicinity of Erbil.  Over the past few months 
the security situation has significantly improved, allowing 
three of a total of seven Doura churches to reopen and hold 
services, while Christian residents are gradually returning 
to their homes. Chullikatt, who had been unable to visit the 
Doura neighborhood until now, commented he could now  report 
firsthand to his superiors in the Vatican of the situation of 
several of Baghdad's key Christian religious sites, rather 
than rely on hearsay.  Chullikatt said he would recommend 
that a Church representative take up residence in the near 
future at Babel College, a key site that Chullikatt is keen 
to restore and reopen and where U.S. soldiers have lived 
since seminarians departed in 2006.  The Church 
representative  could catalogue the library, inventory the 
premises and prepare for eventual transition to seminary use. 
 The Nuncio also sought Embassy assistance in intervening 
with Iraqi authorities to grant an Iraqi residency permit for 
the Latin Rite Bishop, a Lebanese who has been serving in 
Baghdad for five years without proper status.  END SUMMARY. 
 
A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR BABEL COLLEGE 
----------------------------------- 
 
2.  (C) On July 22, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Francis Assisi 
Chullikat and Emboffs, visited Pontificate Babel College 
(Muhalla (M) 860) and the adjacent St Peter's and Paul's 
Major Seminary (M834).   1BCT4ID and ePRT Baghdad-1 advanced 
the visit and provided transportation and security.  While 
many areas of the College and Seminary are in disrepair, 
major vandalism and looting has not taken place.  The College 
has been used by U.S. soldiers as living/working space since 
the College closed and seminarians departed in 2006.  Church 
authorities made those decisions in response to the 
kidnapping of some of the staff's priests, including the 
Rector (who was subsequently released).  The institution 
eventually relocated to Ankawa, a Christian village outside 
Erbil (Kurdistan), with 23 seminarians currently enrolled, 
according to Chullikatt.  The Nuncio's hope is to 
rehabilitate the neglected facilities and resume clerical 
training and other church functions at Babel College; 
Chullikatt stated that Babel College could serve Catholics of 
all rites - Chaldean, Assyrian, Latin, and Armenian - as a 
postgraduate theological institution.  By coincidence, 
Chullikatt was to meet the Rector of Babel College later in 
the afternoon, and indicated he would propose that the rector 
engage with the BCT and ePRT on transition arrangements. 
 
 
3.  (C)  The local U.S. battalion commander (7-10 CAV) told 
the visitors that when the neighborhood experienced 
Sunni-Shia clashes in 2006, many area residents fled, but 
some, including some Christians, were now returning.  He 
anticipated returns would accelerate over the summer in 
advance of the school year.  The 1BCT4ID Commander (COL 
Martin) and ePRT team leader noted that Chaldean Patriarch 
Cardinal Emmanuel Delly had visited them at FOB Falcon on 
July 12.  Delly reportedely had indicated he would like to 
resume seminary functions at Babel College, but could not ask 
the U.S. military to go away (and leave the church facilities 
without security).  Looking at the Babel College facilities 
with Chullikatt on July 22, COL Martin  suggested and 
Chullikatt agreed that the military would set up a working 
and living space for a Church representative adjacent to the 
College library.  A priest or sister could come in the near 
future to catalogue library holdings, inventory the premises, 
identify  repairs needed (which the U.S. Army would 
undertake), and otherwise prepare for a transition to 
resumption of seminary functions. 
 
SEMINARIES THAT LACK NOTHING BUT STUDENTS 
------------------------------------------ 
 
4.  (C) Adjacent to Babel College is St. Peter's Major 
Seminary, which at one time had over 30 priests and 
seminarians in residence, but which has been closed since 
2006.  The compound and seminarians' living quarters, 
although covered with layers of dust, are in generally good 
 
BAGHDAD 00002326  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
shape. Chullikatt noted that reopening Babel College would 
enable lecturers and staff from outside Iraq to teach there. 
The next stop was Marc Antonius Chaldean Seminary (M810), 
which is also in a reasonably good state of repair.  Father 
Feras, a Chaldean clergyman, has been providing services to 
the Chaldean Christian community in Doura.  He has also 
visited Hillah to celebrate religious services for its 
approximately fifty Christian families.  (Note:  According to 
Chullikatt, there are currently 13 Chaldean Catholic priests 
in Baghdad, and six or seven Assyrian Catholic priests.  End 
note.)  Fr. Feras, who has been in regular contact with 
Chullikatt, holds Mass at the Chaldean Seminary and nearby 
St. John's Chaldean Church in Doura. 
 
 
ST JOHN'S CHALDEAN CHURCH 
------------------------- 
 
5.  (C) The last stop was St John's Chaldean Church, which 
closed due to violence in 2003, but reopened in late 2007, 
with a mass celebrated by Chaldean Bishop Shlaimon Wardouni 
and attended by both Christians and Muslims.  Since then the 
Church has conducted services every week, as well as on key 
religious holidays.  There was a first communion for 10 
people two weeks ago and the church is clean and 
well-maintained by any standard. 
 
 
NUNCIO SEEKS ASSISTANCE WITH VISAS FOR LATIN RITE BISHOP 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
6.  (C)   The Nuncio pulled aside Deputy PolCouns both at the 
start and close of the day trip to request USG intervention 
with the GOI to obtain a residency permit for Latin Rite 
Bishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman.  Chullikat said Sleiman has 
been in Iraq for the last five years, but the GOI has 
refused, despite repeated requests, to grant a residency 
permit.  Sleiman, who is Lebanese, has been a visa overstay, 
according to Chullikat.  The Nuncio added he had provided 
Sleiman with a Vatican laissez-passer in hopes this would 
somewhat mitigate the precariousness of his status.  The 
Nuncio further commented that correcting Bishop Sleiman,s 
situation would allow him to more fully exercise his 
liturgical functions as a peer to the Chaldean Patriarch 
Cardinal Delly. 
 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
7.  (C)  Archbishop Chullikatt took away the impression that 
both security and the physical condition of Church properties 
in Doura are better than represented in many reports. 
However, achieving an even higher level of security requires 
sustained progress and effort.  Impressions we were able to 
sample, e.g. from church caretakers, suggest a high degree of 
acceptance for Christians and Christian returnees. END 
COMMENT.
 
CROCKER

 



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