Christian communities in Iraq are preparing for a 'Christmas under siege', church authorities reported today. Traditions will be quietly kept in the privacy of family homes, while Christmas Masses will only is celebrated during the day, for safety reasons.
"It will be a Christmas, between fear and sturdy faith", Aid to the Church in Need said, as they announced a campaign of solidarity and support for Iraqi Christians.
Last year, in the wake of several fatal bomb attacks, concrete walls three metres high were erected around churches in Baghdad.
Mgr Jean Benjamin Sleiman, Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, said that in recent years, some Christians have experienced persecution and today they continue to live in the most dangerous areas such as Baghdad and Mosul.
They are considered 'dimmi' (infidels), therefore legally and socially inferior, and even forced to pay the 'jizya', the tax due from the non-Muslim minorities in order to practice their faith.
In Kurdistan - says the Bishop - the life of Christians is quieter, "but the enormous socio-cultural and economic difficulties push the faithful to emigrate". Apart from these "islands of coexistence", the Christian community is subjected to the Muslim majority, "helplessly witnessing crime, mafia or militia".
The uncertainty of the future is shared by the faithful Iraqis, who look forward to the Christmas "ass.
Archbishop Sleiman said: "The holidays are fundamental opportunities to practice their faith. I hope we can celebrate them with equanimity, but it all depends on the security".
Looking to the new Iraq, Mgr Sleiman calls on the international community to support the government, "so that Iraq once again has a rule of law."
Fr Amir Jaje, Superior of the Dominicans in Baghdad, described the atmosphere in Baghdad as "tense" - due to sectarian conflict and the imminent withdrawal of US troops. He said: "The extremists are taking advantage of tensions to make their voices heard and the faithful are increasingly distressed".
But, he concluded: "there is still hope in Iraq, and our Christmas is to believe in this hope".
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