Christmas in Iraq’s fortressed churches
In Kirkuk and Soulaymanyia Christians crowd parishes while outside soldiers and police provide security. The wife of President Talabani distributes gifts to children.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Concentrated in the north of the country after fleeing from threats and persecution in Baghdad and Mosul, many Christian families in Iraq gathered to celebrate Christmas in Soulaymanyia in Kurdistan.

The Mass was also attended by the mayor, the local Muslim leaders and the wife of Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. In a crowded church, the first lady helped Santa Claus to distribute gifts to children.

In Kirkuk, however, where the Mass of the Vigil was not celebrated for the first time in seven years for security reasons, the solemn celebrations were held only on the morning of Dec. 25. In the front row, local authorities, police and the army chiefs, the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, tribal chiefs and party leaders.

Military and police were deployed outside the church to ensure the safety of the faithful after the escalation of attacks and threats against Christians following the attack by Al Qaeda on the church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad Oct. 31.

Unfortunately, the faithful tell AsiaNews, "the churches are like fortresses now and its difficult to pray as we should in them".

Both in Kirkuk and Soulaymaniyia, faithful wore a long red ribbon on their shoulders to commemorate the martyrs of the cathedral of Baghdad and also to say that at Christmas hope and peace are tied to sacrifice. "There is hope– says one Iraqi priest - but it is fragile like the fragility of men. " (NA)