Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Iraq.

Christmas celebrations were subdued once again in Iraq this year, as the country's ancient Christan communities continue to mourn the victims of recent attacks and face an increasingly uncertain future. For more on the current situation, consider this report from the Wall Street Journal's Sam Dagher:
Christmas festivities in Mosul, an ancient center for Christianity in Iraq's north, as well as in Baghdad are being shunned in favor of prayers and masses to protest the targeting of Christians, especially in Mosul, one of the most volatile cities in Iraq. Chief on worshipers' minds will be victims of a church siege in Baghdad at the end of October that killed nearly 60 people.

Extremists have targeted Iraqi Christians and their churches repeatedly since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein and sparked a near civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Iraq's relatively peaceful political transition and the approval of a new government this week haven't lessened the sense of persecution among Christians, according to Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona, who leads the Chaldean Diocese of Mosul.

"These are the worst and most perilous times" for Christians, Archbishop Nona said in a recent interview.

Since the end of October, almost 1,000 Christian families have fled Baghdad and Mosul to the relative safety of the northern Kurdistan region and the adjacent Nineveh Plain, which is also under de facto Kurdish control, according to a statement issued last week by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR said that between the start of November and last Friday, 400 more Iraqi Christians had fled to neighboring Jordan and Syria.
To read the rest of the WSJ article, click here. You should also read this recent statement from Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, who recently received the 2010 International Prize for Peace from Pax Christi International in recognition of his outspoken defense of religious minorities in an increasingly inhospitable Iraq. Here is some of what Archbishop Sako has to say about this year's "Christmas of mourning" in Iraq:
A sense of sadness and mourning prevails among Christians. There is much concern for the future of young people. For the past two months, they have been unable to go to university. The same is true for many families that fled north who now must plan a future without any concrete bases.

No one expects anything from the government as far as protecting Christians. Political leaders are too caught up in setting up a new administration.

Security is slightly better in Kirkuk than in the capital, but here too abductions and threats occur. For this reason, we have decided for the first time since the war began not to celebrate Midnight Mass. We shall simply not have any feast, period. . . .

Yet, despite everything, we shall pray for peace this Christmas and help the poor families of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah. So far, 106 families have arrived from Baghdad and Mosul.

In my [Christmas] homily, I am going to focus on such problems, on the clashes and on people’s fears but also on the fact that Christmas brings a message of hope. Of course, heaven and earth are two different realities. The Massacre of the Innocents followed Christmas. Thus, for us in Iraq, Christmas is a time of hope and joy as well as pain and martyrdom.

Peace is a goal that people of good will should make happen. If we Christians want to be Christian and welcome Christmas and its message, we must be peacemakers, and build harmony among our Iraqi brothers and sisters.
Let us join Archbishop Sako and his community in praying - and working - for peace, and let us pray also for the Christians of Iraq as the continue to share in the sufferings of Christ's Passion in this season of the celebration of the Nativity. AMDG.


At 12/30/2010 1:48 AM, Anonymous shane said...

Iraqi Christians were far better off under Saddam. Of course to evangelical Protestants, Chaldean Catholics and other ancient churches are just papist idolaters.

At 12/30/2010 2:12 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


I think your first point aligns with one I made in an earlier post (; at this point, it seems impossible to deny that Iraqi Christians enjoyed far greater security under the previous regime.

As for Evangelicals, I wonder how many would be motivated by anti-Catholicism in this instance and how many are simply ignorant of the existence of Christians in the Middle East. I'm not saying that anti-Catholicism isn't a factor, but I think that the ignorance issue is a larger one that affects many in the U.S. and in the Western world generally - and not simply Evangelicals.


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