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Iraqi priest kidnapped by Islamists returns to home country as bishop

Bishop Basel Yaldo, left, with Chaldean Archbishop Djibrail Kassab of Sydney (CNS)

An Iraqi priest who survived a traumatic kidnapping in his homeland is to return there as bishop.

Fr Basel Yaldo, a Chaldean Catholic priest who has spent the last nine years in Michigan, was installed as Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad last Friday. The 44-year-old was one of two Chaldean priests from the Detroit area recently elevated by Pope Francis, along with 58-year-old auxiliary bishop Emanuel Shaleta, who will serve in Toronto.

Fr Basel was kidnapped by Islamists in 2006 and for three days was beaten, and continued to receive death threats until in 2007 he was transferred to Michigan, which has a large Chaldean population, where he has served at served at St George Chaldean Catholic Church in Shelby Township, north of Detroit.

Fr Basel told the Detroit Free Press that the 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.”

Since the US-led invasion of 2003 between a half and two-thirds of Christians have fled the country, and last summer over 100,000 were forced out of the Nineveh Plains after the area was overrun by ISIS. Most are refugees in the Kurdish-controlled north of the country, while up to 4,000 Assyrian Christians have signed up to a new militia, the Nineveh Plains Protection Units, to take back their homeland.

Chaldean Catholics, who came back into Communion with Rome in the 16th century, are more likely to come from Iraq’s major cities, Baghdad and Mosul being home to large, thriving communities until the late 20th century.

Bishop Basel comes from Tel Keppe, formerly a Christian town of 40,000 people which was overrun by ISIS last August. Born in 1970, he entered seminary in 1994 and went to Rome two years later for his theological studies. He was ordained in 2002. He taught at a seminary in Dora, Baghdad, a heavily Christian area of the town that has seen some of the worst violence in the post-Saddam age.

Bishop Yaldo will serve under Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako. His goal, according to the Detroit Free Press, will be to “give people hope and to keep their faith alive”.