Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Iraq.

Like many other Christians throughout the world, the Chaldean Catholics of Iraq traditionally celebrate the Nativity of the Lord with a midnight liturgy on Christmas. In recent years, ongoing turmoil in Iraq and threats to Christians there have forced Chaldean communities to celebrate the 'midnight' Eucharist during daylight hours on Christmas Eve. As Christmas draws near, AsiaNews considers the mood of Chaldean Catholics in the northern city of Kirkuk, a reputed 'safe haven' where Iraqi Christians nonetheless find themselves under siege:
For the Christian community in Kirkuk, the most eagerly awaited Christmas gift is "participation at midnight Mass." It is a wish that, again this year, cannot be fulfilled: nighttime celebrations are banned for reasons connected to security. But there remains the hope that "one day the country may recover peace" and "freedom": this is the essential reason prompting families to remain - amid difficulties and sufferings - and to testify with their lives to the deepest meaning of the Christmas celebration.

During these days of Advent, AsiaNews has met three families from Kirkuk, (whose names we are not publishing for the evident reason of protecting their safety), thanks to whom one may seek to understand the atmosphere surrounding preparation for Christmas, and the meaning of the feast in an area marked by conflict and violence. "At Christmas, families get together to take part in the Mass," recounts one woman. "Although it is no longer possible to celebrate the ceremony at midnight, it is still wonderful to see so many people gathering to contemplate the face of God in the Child in the crib." The solemn midnight Mass - celebrated, in reality, at 5:30 in the afternoon of the 24th, and broadcast live on a satellite television channel - is the most important moment for the families of Kirkuk, after which "there is the traditional exchange of greetings: serenity for families, and peace for all of Iraq."
For the Christians of Kirkuk, the celebration of Christmas offers a sign of hope in a time of persecution. As the AsiaNews article concludes:
Within the Christian community, "one does not live in an atmosphere of fear. The celebration, on the contrary, is transformed into a moment of renewed hope: we are ready to celebrate Christmas," they say, "with joy. Prayer becomes a means to alleviate suffering, and to make us feel close to Christians all over the world who recall the birth of Jesus. Our voice cries aloud, 'We are still here' to witness to Jesus, certain of the fact that we are not alone."

Louis Sako, archbishop of the diocese of Kirkuk, issues through AsiaNews a message of good wishes to the faithful: "For me, Christmas," the prelate says, "means being reborn each day in everyday difficulty. The celebration invites us to love, to welcome, to share without barriers. With this profound strength that arises from our faith, we can truly realize peace."
As our celebration of the Nativity draws near, my prayers are with Christians in Iraq and elsewhere who will commemorate Christ's birth amid present persecution and suffering. As I take part in the celebration of Midnight Mass, I hope to remain mindful of the faithful for whom this great tradition must remain a dream deferred. AMDG.


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