12/20/2010, 00.00
IRAQ
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A Christmas of mourning for Iraq’s Christians

by Louis Sako*
After the series of anti-Christian attacks, Iraq will mark Christmas again under tight security. No functions will be held on Christmas Eve, nor decorations or ceremonies. A community enduring suffering and losses is preparing to experience the message of hope brought by Jesus to earth because, for Iraqi Christians, Christmas is always a time of joy as well as martyrdom. Mgr Louis Sako, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, bears witness.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Midnight Christmas Mass has been cancelled in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations of Christians and the attack against Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral on 31 October, which killed 57 people. For security reasons, churches will not be decorated. Masses will be sombre and held during the day.

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. Santa Claus will not be coming for the children; there will be no official ceremony with the authorities proffering their best wishes.

For the past six weeks, we have not celebrated Mass because of a lack of security, except late in the morning and Saturday afternoons. For now, we have also stopped teaching the catechism.

We do not have the right to put people’s lives in danger. All our parish churches have security guards, but when worshippers step outside the church and into the street, they become an easy target.

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 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.

* Chaldean bishop of Kirkuk

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