Iraq church bombings: eyewitness reports

 Following the news of the church bombings in Iraq, the Christian Peacemakers team in Iraq have sent us this eyewitness report. CPTers Sheila Provencher and Greg Rollins were worshipping at St Raphael's Catholic Church when the first bomb exploded at 6.25pm at the Armenian church about a quarter mile away from them. At that moment in the service, there had been a time of silence, and the priest then continued with the next words of the regular liturgy, "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us." CPTers Peggy Gish and Doug Pritchard were worshipping at St Yousef's Chaldean Church in the same neighbourhood as the Armenian and Syrian churches. Gish said: "When I heard the first explosion, I wondered if it was an attack on a church, and I prayed immediately for whoever might have been involved." As people were leaving the service at 6.50pm, the second blast occurred at the Syrian church three blocks away. Parishioners were quickly hurried out of the area by the Chaldean church's security staff who then blocked off the road. While walking away from the church, Gish and Pritchard asked worried residents for details. One family pulled them inside their home and shared their recent experiences. The young woman of the family wept and said: "My father was killed recently because he sold alcohol. Because of that, I was too afraid to go to my church today. Now it has been bombed. I don't know if my friends there are alive or dead. Saddam was a killer. Now there are many Saddams." Her distraught mother added: "All Christians want to leave Iraq now. There is no safety for them here now." The blast at the Armenian church destroyed three cars on the street, an adjacent brick wall, and shattered windows in a 500 yard radius, including stained glass windows in the church. The ensuing fire blackened the face of apartments within the church compound. The engine block from car containing the bomb landed over 50 yards away. The blast at the Syrian church destroyed at least six cars, blew out walls on both sides of the street, and most of the windows in a two- block radius. Iraqi police and US soldiers cordoned off the areas around the churches and US helicopters flew low over the area for the next hour. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for these coordinated attacks. It is a new element in the present violence in Iraq. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical violence-reduction program with roots in the historic peace churches. Teams of trained peace workers live in areas of lethal conflict around the world. CPT has been present in Iraq since October, 2002.

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