03/21/2005, 00.00
IRAQ

Baghdad Christians celebrate Palm Sunday without fear

Christian political leader abducted in January is freed.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Iraqi Christians crowded Palm Sunday services in Baghdad. "We are not afraid," said Mayssoun Ishoo, a Syriac Catholic who, with other faithful, attended services at Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad to start Holy Week celebrations.

The church was one of the five Christian places of worship hit by bomb attacks in August 2004. It was further targeted by another bomb last October. But yesterday, Palm Sunday, it was hit by throngs of people, families with their children.

Arriving at the church the faithful performed the traditional act of reverence before the statue of Our Lady which stands in the Church yard, now protected by cement blocks to discourage car bombs.

Hundreds of people, olive branches in their hands, eagerly participated in the mass service. They were relaxed and their faces did not have that edginess of some months ago.

During the procession, many reached out to touch the bronze cross carried by the celebrating priest.

"Attacks in the last few months have not stopped us from attending service," many of them said.

Still, Mgr Shaba Matoka, head of the Syriac Catholic Church, said that "we are not always certain that we can live in peace". In his opinion, the "troublemakers are not true Iraqis, but foreigners and those who serve foreign interests".

Speaking about the country's many religious groups, he stressed that "everyone in Iraq in Iraq has expressed the desire to live together".

Even talk about introducing Sharia law in Iraq has not raised concerns among Iraqi Christians.

"I don't cover my head like Muslim women," said a Christian woman, who was wearing smart make-up and was accompanied by her two daughters clad in jeans.

Christians were also delighted to hear that Minas al-Yousifi, a Christian political leader abducted in Baghdad on January 28, was released last Friday.

The 'Iraqi Vengeance Brigades' had claimed the kidnapping and demanded a US$ 4 million ransom and the withdrawal of foreign troops. Eventually, the kidnappers asked only for US$ 400,000.

In a dramatic video footage al-Yousifi, who had spent 20 years in exile in Sweden, appealed to the Pope and the King of Sweden.

Upon his liberation Mr Yousifi, who heads Iraq's Christian Democratic Party, said no ransom was paid. (LF)

 

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