Baghdad (AsiaNews) - An Advent of light and shadow for Iraq's Christians, who are celebrating the reopening of the cathedral of Baghdad but at the same time subjected to new - and heavy - threats from a radical Shiite Muslim leader. From studies of a television broadcaster based in Egypt, an Iraqi Ayatollah launches a fatwa against the religious minority on the eve of Christmas: "Conversion to Islam or death." However, strength of faith overcomes the fear of violence as witnessed by celebrations for the "rebirth" of the Syrian Catholic cathedral in the capital, the scene of a bloody attack at the end of October 2010 (see AsiaNews 31/10/2010 Al Qaeda attack on Baghdad church ends in massacre)
In an interview last December 13 on Egyptian television Al Baghdadia, the Shiite ayatollah Ahmad Al Hassani Al Baghdadi issued a fatwa against Christians in Iraq. Labeling them as "polytheists" and "friends of the Zionists", the extremist leader stressed that they must choose "or Islam or death," while "their women and girls may legitimately be regarded wives of Muslims." Al Baghdadi is known for his "jihad" positions and for attacking Americans in the past during their presence in the country, and today he lives in Syria, supporting the armed opposition.
Catholic sources in the capital tell AsiaNews that it is "a very serious fatwa," but "it is unlikely that people will be upset too much." The government pays "attention" to these proclamations by extremists, however it is possible that such words could "create panic in some areas of the capital," where there are now "very few" Christians.
This morning meanwhile Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, presided over the rededication ceremony of the restored Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The place which reopened yesterday to worship and to the faithful, was the scene October 31, 2010 of a massacre carried out by a group of al Qaeda, which killed about 50 faithful and two priests.
During the homily, the cardinal immediately recalled the "testimony offered by many of our brothers and sisters" who "preceded by two young and heroic priests" united forever "their lives to Jesus Christ." He highlighted the "honorable sacrifices" that have allowed the reopening of the cathedral and pointed out that, through the comfort and hope "the Lord encourages Eastern Christians, and especially those of Iraq, to communion and testimony." Bringing the greetings of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sandri invoked the Lord, so that "the tears shed in this sacred place, become the good seed of communion and witness and bear much fruit."
The Vatican cardinal is in Iraq for a five-day official visit, which began on December 13, in addition to the consecration, Cardinal Sandri took part in the Christmas concert organized for the Year of Faith in the Armenian cathedral in the capital, while over the next days he will visit Kirkuk and Erbil in the north.