In Amman, Iraqi Christians are continuing the traditional celebrations of Christmas – trees, nativity scenes, church services, and presents – but they are far from feeling festive. It is estimated that over a million Christians were in Iraq when the US invaded, and that number has been halved. Many are refugees in Syria and Jordan. They face the same hardships as other refugees – lacking jobs, facing poverty, missing their homeland and their families.
Iraqi exiles prepare for a sad Christmas
"Christmas is the new birth but we are not happy. We do not feel it is Christmas," said the Iraqi, who did not want to give his name.
..... "I did not leave my home in Baghdad because I wanted to. They [armed men] forced me to. They shot at us at home and threw a sound bomb in the kitchen," he said. His Christmas blues are a feeling shared by many Iraqi Christians. In the past six years, large numbers were either killed, kidnapped or threatened while several churches were bombed, and their clergy murdered.
Inside Iraq, two churches and a church school were bombed earlier this week. Violence in Iraq still continues, and a lot of it is directed towards religious minorities.
Bombs target Iraqi Christians, Shiites
"Instead of performing Christmas Mass in this church, we will be busy removing rubble and debris," Hazim Ragheed, a priest at the church, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
The church, called Mar Toma Church, or the Church of St. Thomas, is more than 1,200 years old. It is located in Mosul. Clearly, there was no significant animosity towards Christians in Iraq before the US military showed up. The age of the church proves that fact. Since the US invasion in 2003, there have been repeated attacks on the Christians in Iraq.
And due to the violence, the celebrations in Iraq itself will be quiet ones. One bishop in Basra called for no public festivities, and several churches have canceled their typical Christmas mass or Christmas services. They are afraid.
A quiet Christmas for Christians in Iraq
In Kirkuk, a sign on the door of the Kirkuk Cathedral for Chaldean Christians read, in part: "We apologize to all the brothers for not conducting celebrations or accepting greetings or guests, but we pray for peace and security in Iraq. We cannot celebrate because of our grief over the victims of the bombings in Mosul and Baghdad."
... Hundreds of thousands of Christians remain in Iraq, but many live in isolated enclaves, according to church officials. Sako, the Chaldean archbishop, said that 10,000 Christians have fled Kirkuk in the past three months, and church officials in Basra have reported that the Christian community there has halved to about 2,500 people because of militia attacks.
Here are some more comments by Iraqi Christians who are still in Iraq:
"Psychologically, we cannot have a celebration," said Qais Aboudi, a 56-year-old carpenter and member of a Baghdad Chaldean parish. "But we cannot deny we are Christians. It is our religion, and we are proud of it."
"I used to celebrate Christmas with many people, with joy, with visits, with guests," said the pastor at the Virgin Mary church. "Now I am staying here alone."
And here are a few more:
"I’m very sad that we are not able to have our rituals for Christmas this year and not have a sermon, but we do not want any Christians to be harmed," said Edward Poles, a Christian priest at Sa’a Church in Mosul, which was bombed last week, though no one was killed.
"There will be no celebration or anything of that sort," said Duraid Issam, a 41-year-old clerk. "We will keep it quiet because things are really bad. We are not targeted only at churches, but even in our houses because they will plant bombs outside our homes as well."
"Our celebrations will not be open and will be restricted to going to the church in the morning," said Naeil Victor, a 58-year-old teacher in the southern city of Basra. "My children are upset because they have been waiting for this Christmas for a year now, but my wife and my father understand what is going on around them."
"We have moved the rituals for Christmas to the town of Qereqush, fearing that the Christians might be harmed in this insecure and unsafe city," said the Rev. Behnam Asaad of Qahira Church. "We have distributed cards and fliers to the Christian families of this church informing them about the time and place where we will have the celebration, but we fear that assassinations might take place even after Christmas."
"They are targeting not only us, but all Iraqis," said Ann Benjamin, 26, after she walked through a phalanx of security personnel to attend Mass this week at Al Qaleb Al Aqdas (Sacred Heart) Church in the Karada district of Baghdad. "I am not afraid of going to church — even if I die there, I will be happy to die in God’s home."
All of this came about because of the US war and occupation, where we brought them the freedom of the grave and the democracy of death.
A beautiful prayer for Christmas:
Merry Christmas from the Arab Christian Kossacks