Baghdad declares Christmas a national holiday. Card Sako's 'joy and satisfaction'

Yesterday the Iraqi Parliament approved the bill which sanctions the birth of Jesus as a "holiday for everyone", with "annual frequency". An "official" request to this effect was made in October in a meeting with President Salih. Bishop Yaldo: "One of the first fruits of the Pope's visit to Iraq".

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Iraq’s Chamber of Deputies yesterday voted on a bill sanctioning Christmas as a "national holiday with an annual frequency" for all citizens. Welcoming the news as a source of great "joy and satisfaction" and confirmation of the importance of "the Christian presence" for the whole country, Chaldean patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako explains: "Parliament voted on our request to consider Christmas a holiday for all Iraqis". And the motion "passed, to our great satisfaction".

Interviewed by AsiaNews, Msgr. Basilio Yaldo, auxiliary of Baghdad and general coordinator of the Iraqi Church Pope Francis’ imminent visit to Iraq, speaks of a “historic vote, because today Christmas is truly a celebration for all Iraqis. And this happens for the first time”.

In the past, he adds, “the government granted Christians a day off, now it applies to everyone and it will be for years to come. It is no longer a temporary measure to be renewed every year. This is a message of great value and great hope for Christians and for all of Iraq and is inevitably linked to the pontiff's apostolic journey to our country in March. This is one of the first fruits we hope will bring many others in the future”.

On October 17, the Chaldean primate met the President of the Republic Barham Salih. In addition to the situation of Christians, Card Sako had forwarded the "official request" to the head of state to proclaim the birth of Jesus a "holiday for all". The green light arrived yesterday is a further recognition for a community victim in recent decades of serious sectarian violence and targeted attacks that have triggered a massive exodus. A flight that reduced the original population of the early 2000s to a third.

“His Beatitude and Eminence - reads a note released by the patriarchate - thanks the President of the Iraqi Republic Barham Salih, for having adopted the request […] to make Christmas (December 25th) a national holiday every year. He also thanks Muhammad al-Halbousi and the parliamentarians for their favourable vote for the good of Christian citizens”.

In 2018, the government approved an amendment to the National Holidays Law, temporarily elevating Christmas to the status of a public celebration for all citizens. The measure voted yesterday should guarantee further value and stability to the party, for a nation that lives in anticipation of the historic visit of Pope Francis in early March. An event, as the Chaldean primate underlines, which is at the same time a "source of emotion and an enormous grace" and which could mark further steps in the dialogue with Islam. In particular, with the Shiite Muslim world by including "a stop in Najaf, with a meeting with [the great ayatollah] al-Sistani".